Palm Trees

Up With Millennials

The talented young set loves the desert for its California lifestyle, affordable prices, and big opportunities.

Ken Alan Vision

Palm Trees

Almost a quarter of the inhabitants of Greater Palm Springs fall into the age rage of 15 to 34, about the same percentage as the rest of the United States (27 percent). Demographers have dubbed this generation “millennials” and, in the first quarter of 2015, they became the largest segment of the U.S. labor force.

A 2015 survey by Deloitte, in conjunction with Kantar Millward Brown, revealed the cohort is most attracted to employers in the knowledge economy — specifically those in technology, media, and telecommunications.

Millennials present employers with the most educated workforce in history, with more than a third of 25- to 29-year-olds holding a bachelor’s or master’s, or a doctorate degree. But this abundance has created tremendous competition for entry-level careers in major metro areas. Many young workers also find the high cost of big-city housing incompatible with incomes already burdened with student loans. Millennials seeking the California lifestyle have discovered Greater Palm Springs’ knowledge economy industries and affordable quality of life.

See related story: The Pursuit of Happiness

“Sports and arts are also important to many millennial parents. Music, arts, and sports are thriving in all levels of DSUSD schools.”Janice Diaz, Desert Sands Unified School District

“It was really difficult to find a job in Los Angeles,” says Katelyn Empy, 29, an attorney practicing in the areas of civil litigation, public agency, Native American, and environmental law at SBEMP in Palm Springs. The move to the desert was supposed to be temporary, but she eventually changed her mind. Now she has her sights set on a partnership in the firm.

“I’m not a big city person,” says 31-year-old Jean Merriam, a public relations executive with FG Creative in Palm Desert. “It’s a lot more affordable to be here than it is in San Diego or L.A. I have friends who live in those areas, and some of them are struggling because it’s so much more expensive.”

Co-worker Chelsea Van Es, 33, FG’s online media director, traveled around the world for about eight years before settling down in the desert. “I fell in love with the community and culture here,” she says. “I kind of found my niche.”

“There’s just something about the desert that I like, and I feel comfortable here,” says Jesus Hernandez, 23, a computer network administrator at Desert Publications, a magazine (such as this one) and internet publishing company. With skills that are in high demand, Hernandez could choose to work anywhere in the country.

See related story: The Rise of the Knowledge Economy

Millennials – Proportion of the Population
in the Coachella Valley

The figures show the estimated number of millennials in each city and the corresponding percentage of the city’s total population. The population numbers are based on the U.S. Census which reports ages in five year increments, so the numbers in this graphic are the totals for ages 15 to 34. For comparison, Riverside County estimates 680,000 millennials and 29 percent of the total population, the state of California 11.4 million and 29 percent, and the total U.S. 88.2 million and 27 percent.

“I can’t really think of anything that big cities have over here,” says 25-year-old Erik Heckert, a motion graphics designer. Heckert followed his family to the desert from Maryland and has worked for Palm Desert’s Cord Media Company for five years. “The weather here is phenomenal. In Maryland I had to constantly check the Weather Channel to see if it was going to rain.” He discovered pickleball after moving here and has since found a group of guys with whom to play. “Now I’ve gotten into the tournament crowd and I’m playing several times a week.”

Heckert is in the market to buy his first home, and he says the prices are “reasonable.” For millennials, Greater Palm Springs offers accommodations that are about half the price of Los Angeles and, on average, even slightly less expensive than Phoenix. Studio apartments can be found for $600 and less. A one-bedroom apartment averages around $710 and two bedrooms hover around $880, according to Sperling’s Best Places.

At first glance, the valley’s median home prices skew high, due to the unusually large inventory of ultra-luxury homes; but on closer inspection, first-time buyers can easily find properties comparable in price to Phoenix and well below the median home price in large metro areas. For example, the median home price in Desert Hot Springs is $174,200 compared to $583,600 in Los Angeles and $191,000 in Phoenix, according to Sperling’s data.

“We are more accessible and affordable than densely populated areas like Los Angeles and Silicon Valley and, compared to California at large, we hover somewhere around $200,000 lower than the average house selling price, and condos are around $300,000 lower than the average home,” says Diana Bernardi, president of the California Desert Association of Realtors. “We may look comparable to somewhere like Phoenix, and not just in climate. The valley is a beautiful place to live year-round, and the only way for us to continue to thrive and grow is to make people aware that there are places in California where they can both work and live comfortably.”

Millennials have also discovered Greater Palm Springs is a great place to raise a family. “There’s a pretty big group of people my age who have kids in Palm Desert and La Quinta,” says Merriam, who has a 7-month-old. “We’re not far from San Diego if we want to go to the beach. We’re not far from the mountains.”

See related story: Where Great Ideas Becomes Great Companies

“It’s a very safe community,” says Van Es, who has children, ages 6 and 2. “A lot of the young people I hang out with have kids. We spend a lot of time at the park, there’s an aquatic center at the pool, and we bike a ton.”

“The pace and quality of life here is really hard to beat. There’s actually a lot of things to do,” says Matt Larson, 33, a senior analyst of clinical performance at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage.

Larson grew up in the desert, departing briefly to earn a bachelor’s at USC and a MBA from UC Riverside. With marketable skills that could have landed him a job in any large California city, he chose to pursue his career in Greater Palm Springs. “I just didn’t like the culture as much [in Los Angeles]. The desert seemed much more welcoming.”

In his free time, Larson likes to take his off-road motorcycle to the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area. “It’s a huge desert that’s designed for off-road riding,” he says. SVRA is an hour drive south of Greater Palm Springs, part of the 600,000-acre Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

Larson has been married for six years and has no children yet, but a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) will be important to him when he becomes a parent.

“We have high academic programs such as International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement, as well as STEM schools offering in-depth programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics,” says Janice Diaz of Desert Sands Unified School District.

Sports and arts are also important to many millennial parents and, Diaz adds, “Music, arts, and sports are thriving in all levels of DSUSD schools.”

“It is important to mind the arts when speaking of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics as well,” says DSUSD Superintendent Scott Bailey. “In fact, I might recommend buying a vowel. In Desert Sands, we are embracing the future, full STEM ahead,” adding the “a” for “art” to the well-known acronym.

Today’s school children face a future with few jobs for unskilled workers. “To ensure every student graduates college and are career ready, our schools offer career technical education programs and exciting pathways” through many career academies, Diaz says. Such a rich and diverse education will provide an essential foundation for tomorrow’s workers — the “centennials.”