TAMPA — Since he took office two years ago, Mayor Bob Buckhorn has made it his goal to turn Tampa into a magnet for young people looking to make a name for themselves. New census figures suggest the odds may be in his favor.
The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey shows steady growth in the numbers of young single people calling Tampa home in recent years. They made up about 40 percent of the city’s adult population in 2012, compared with less than one-third for St. Petersburg, according to figures released today.
Of Tampa’s male population, 46 percent say they have never been married. Among women, the rate is 38 percent. Both figures are up between 4 and 6 percentage points since 2008.
Tampa, like other cities, is feeling the demographic after-effects of the recession as people in their 20s and early 30s delay settling down, said James Johnson Jr., a professor of business demographics at the University of North Carolina.
That’s largely because Millennials — people born between 1981 and 2000 — have had the economic rug pulled out from under them, he said. They’re graduating from college buried in debt and with weak job prospects.
“When you’re in debt and do not have a good job, marriage is not the first thing on your mind,” Johnson said.
Millennials aren’t the only ones. Late-blooming Generation Xer’s — those in their late 30s and 40s — also are finding themselves on the short end of the matrimonial stick, partly for economic reasons, Johnson said. About one-third of them in Tampa have never been married, according to census figures.
But the Millennials’ experience has helped shift society as a whole away from decades in which married people were the largest single segment of society. For both men and women, Tampa’s never-married singles now firmly outnumber married people.
Torianne Valdez is part of that demographic shift.
Valdez, 27, grew up in Carrollwood and attended the University of South Florida. Today she’s single and living in Hyde Park. She works for Instruments of Change, a South Tampa nonprofit organization that provides music training for poor kids.
Valdez said the economy isn’t the only reason people her age are putting off getting married.
“I think it has more to do with people wanting to get certain things accomplished in their careers before they settle down,” Valdez said.
Valdez has a roommate — an increasingly common alternative to the old saying that two can live more cheaply than one, Johnson said.
Valdez said her hometown is becoming a draw for young people because of the sun and sand.
“My roommate moved from Georgia for a job here in South Tampa,” Valdez said. “Also, my other friend moved from Maine just to come here because she heard it was a cool place. It changed her life.”
The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce has spent nearly a decade courting young people though Emerge Tampa Bay, a networking group. Membership has nearly tripled in the past two years and now sits around 400, said Ashley Ehrman, Emerge Tampa Bay’s coordinator.
Emerge hosts monthly happy hours for networking and also holds workshops on things such as public speaking and resolving intergenerational issues in the workplace, Ehrman said.
“People want to accomplish so much,” Ehrman said.
The growth in Tampa’s never-married population has coincided with the expansion of residential construction in the Channel District, Hyde Park and downtown. New bars and restaurants are popping up everywhere. Groups such as the Tampa Bay Technology Forum aim to make Tampa a center for entrepreneurship that can compete for more of those never-married people.
For his part, Buckhorn holds monthly food truck rallies downtown. Soon he’ll kick off a bike share program to sweeten the pot.
“Tampa is becoming known nationally as a city on the move,” Buckhorn said. “All the indicators are telling us what we’re doing is working.”