We’re not lazy, just inspired

By Eva-Jeanette Rawlins
Study takes Portlandia seriously: Is Portland really the place young people go to retire?

It’s safe to say most of us are sick of hearing, “Portland is where young people go to retire.” Problem is, anyone who has watched the show Portlandia, which coined the overused phrase, will inevitably ask you if it’s true when they find out you’re from the city. As with most jokes, there are always people who think you couldn’t possibly have heard it before.


Regardless, a pair of Portland State professors don’t think it’s a laughing matter. Believe it or not, they recently conducted and released a study on it, asking whether or not Portlandia got it right.

PSU’s School of Urban Studies and Planning professors Jason Jurjevich and Greg Schrock analyzed data from the 2000 Census and American Community Surveys from 2005–07 and 2008–10 to “compare migration patterns in Portland to the other 50 largest U.S metros.”

According to their findings, the city has seen a steady influx of young people who “place a greater relative value on noneconomic factors…compared to employment opportunities,” despite the continuing difficult economic times.

Many say that’s just code for “lazy,” but this study confirms what many people I know believe: that climbing the corporate ladder and making your first million before the age of 30 isn’t necessarily everyone’s definition of success or good work ethic. Gasp.

The study reveals that between 2008 and 2010, young, educated Portlanders earned an annual average of $42,659—placing them 42nd out of the 50 largest metros surveyed. Contrary to popular opinion, those numbers don’t reflect a demographic unwilling to work. The study shows that Portland was above the average in numbers of those employed or actively seeking employment.

Economist Joe Cortright, after reviewing the report, told The Oregonian that, “If people were here to retire, if they were not working, if they were slackers…that would show up.”

It’s obvious that Portlanders are working just as hard as everyone else. The difference seems to be that they’re not willing to kill themselves and their social, physical and spiritual well-being to do so.

It’s not uncommon to find educated individuals working two or three jobs, none of which require a degree. Of course, the job market may have something to do with that, but more often than not it’s because they’ve chosen to.

Working at a locally owned coffee shop that emanates aromas of Stumptown and deliciously buttery, melt-in-your-mouth homemade pastries, where everyone knows your name and locals come in two or three times a day to read the New York Times or just to chat—that’s what some would call quality life. Loving what you do.

Or, like a number of my fabulously creative friends who work a couple of part-time jobs to help pay the rent as they forge their way into the scary yet satisfying world of self-employment, getting to be one’s own boss is a dream. And many are willing to put up with almost anything to have it.

Portland ranks third highest in the number of self-employed young people in U.S. metro areas. That we have so much unbridled creativity around us may have something to do with it—no one’s telling them what they can and cannot do. No one is saying, “Be here at 9 a.m. sharp and make something!”

They’re out hiking in the gorge. And when the sun bursts through the vast canvas of trees above, hitting them with a ray of inspiration, it just might lead to their highest-selling painting ever.

Being willing to settle for less money and greater freedom, health and creativity isn’t “lazy.” It’s called brilliance—and that, to sheepishly borrow from a giant corporate slogan, is priceless.


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