Where should they go? A look at what makes places attractive for our nation's young professionals—and a list of the 25 best metro areas.


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Congratulations, Class of 2011, and welcome to a job market that's only a little less terrible than the one that last year's graduates had to contend with. Don't feel too bad if you're moving back to your parents' house. According to a widely-reported recent survey, that's where some 85 percent of your classmates are headed too.  Still, you're going to be striking off on your own at some point, and the choices you'll make about where to live can make an enormous difference in the kind of jobs you can get to help launch your career and life.

To seize your opportunities and navigate a career in this new borderless world, you have to be prepared to pick up stakes. Depending upon where Mom and Dad live, you might need to move to get that critical first job.

Put some serious thought into where you go when you do go. The place you choose to start your career is key to your economic future. Jobs no longer last forever. In fact, the average twenty-something switches jobs every year. Places can provide the vibrant, thick labor market that can get you that next job and the one after that and be your hedge against layoffs during this economic downturn.

Early career moves are the most important of all, according to my Atlantic colleague Don Peck. Writing in the National Journal, he cited a prominent study that finds that "about two-thirds of all lifetime income growth occurs in the first 10 years of a career, when people can switch jobs easily, bidding up their earnings." Sure you can move from place to place every time you switch employers (and in fact people in their twenties are three to four times more likely to move than people in their fifties) but it's a lot easier to manage a forward-looking career if you choose the best place right out of the gate.

So where to go?

To help you choose, my Martin Prosperity Institute colleague Charlotta Mellander and I ranked 223 U.S. metropolitan areas according to factors that indicated how active and high-quality their job markets are. We added variables for the share of young adults and college graduates, to capture places that are open to smart twenty-somethings, where you can not only build friendships and look for mates but create the personal professional networks that are so crucial to both careers and happiness. We included a variable for rental housing, since you'll need to be flexible at first and mortgages are hard to get. After much back and forth, we decided not to include an affordability variable because we thought the key was to get that critical first job and launch your career -- even if you have to double or triple up with roommates. The seven variables we based our rankings on are:

1.      Unemployment rate

2.      Share of the workforce in professional, technical, management or creative positions

3.      Earnings potential (median earnings of BA holders)

4.      The share of young people (ages 25-34) in the population

5.      Share of the population with a BA or above

6.      Mating opportunities (share of population that has never been married)

7.      Rental housing

In years past, ours and other rankings have taken amenities like nightlife and parks into account. Given the truly frightening state of the economy, we decided to focus this year's rankings mainly on the job market and economic conditions.. We pulled the data from the latest edition of the American Community Survey.

Greater Washington D.C. comes in first this time around, with a job market that includes everything from government and Fortune 500 companies, to think tanks, start-ups, and NGOs.  It's a great place for smart, civically minded new grads who might want to test out a wide variety of career options. Greater New York only comes in fifth, which might sound surprising since it's such a mecca for grads in a wide variety of careers from banking and management to media and entertainment and creative fields from digital media to indie music. But most of them end up living in Manhattan, Brooklyn, or nearby Hoboken and our stats cover the whole metro. Seventh-ranking San Jose is in the heart of Silicon Valley -- the place for techies (though Austin, San Francisco, Boston, and Durham-Raleigh's Research triangle have lots of tech jobs too). Smaller college towns like Madison, Boulder, and Iowa City to name a few -- also do well. College towns like these have highly-skilled, resilient economies that have been among the best at weathering the economic crisis. They are great hold-over place for grads thinking about their next move, whether it's the job market or onto grad school.  Our gallery features 25 metros in all -- and there are a lot more college towns and tech capitals in the mix.

Happy hunting -- and have some fun while you're doing it. Finding a job with a future is a real challenge in this economy, but any adventure worth going on has its hardships, and few quests are as exciting (or rewarding) as the pursuit of the right job -- and the best place to live. Good luck.

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