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Two of the Top Three cities for young people to live and work in are so expensive that the average house price is $1.2-million and the average one-bedroom apartment rent is more than $2,500 monthly.

Toronto was first and Vancouver third in the latest Youthful Cities Urban Work Index, a ranking of 30 cities by the quality of life and employment they offer young people aged 15 to 29. It’s often said that Gen Zs and millennials should leave Toronto and Vancouver for the sake of affordability. But these two cities are places to make your fortune as much as break it. Why should young people have to move away?

The index offers several alternatives to Toronto and Vancouver, including second-ranked Montreal and fourth- through sixth-ranked Charlottetown, Kitchener-Waterloo and Ottawa-Gatineau. But Toronto outmuscled the others, even as the people who put the index together ranked it last for affordability.

The index scores were based on 167 measures grouped in 10 topics that included affordability, health, job availability for youth, diversity, climate action and entrepreneurial spirit. Affordability was given the most weight by a slight amount overall, yet it was overwhelmed in the case of Toronto by strong scores in other areas.

“Affordability is a major piece,” said Raj Dhaliwal, project leader for Youthful Cities. “It’s just that there are other opportunities in areas like diversity and education.”

Count me among those who have suggested that young adults bail on Toronto and Vancouver in search of a more affordable lifestyle and housing. Last November, I wrote a column headlined: “For the sake of their financial future, young people should leave Toronto and Vancouver.” Now, after seeing the index results, I’m conflicted.

Both cities are expensive to the max to live in – Toronto’s average rent for a one-bedroom apartment was $2,526 in May, up 20.5 per cent on a year-over-year basis; Vancouver’s average one-bedroom rent was $2,787, up 14.7 per cent.

Houses are similarly expensive – the average resale home cost $1.17-million in Vancouver last month and $1.15-million in Toronto. The minimum down payment for houses costing $1-million or more is 20 per cent, which means buyers in Toronto and Vancouver must save at least $240,000 or so.

Plenty of young people are leaving Toronto and other expensive Ontario cities, primarily for Alberta and Atlantic Canada. Cities in these regions offer cheaper housing, but the broader experience for young adults varies a lot. Halifax ranked tenth in the Urban Work Index, Calgary ranked 11th, Edmonton 14th, Fredericton 21st and Lethbridge 27th. The bottom three cities were Oshawa, Ont., St. John’s and Yellowknife.

Charlottetown is an example of how a city with appeal for young adults might not feel suitable. The city scored well for economy, quality of youth jobs, action on climate change and health, but was in the Bottom 10 for diversity, transportation and digital access.

Telling young people to move to more affordable cities is practical in that there are much cheaper places to live than Toronto and Vancouver. The average house price in Prince Edward Island is $339,000, with Edmonton at $373,000 and Montreal at $519,200. Even with today’s elevated mortgage rates, these are affordable housing markets.

But there are costs to everyone when young adults migrate out of big cities with a high cost of living. These cities lose the energy and contributions of young people, rendering them more sterile in a social and economic sense. Families are fractured as seniors age without their adult children nearby and new parents lose the child care support of their own parents.

The worst aspect of telling young people to move is that it ratifies the idea of elite cities where only people with serious money can get ahead. If it’s understood and accepted that these cities are expensive, then politicians can shrug off affordability challenges for young people. The sluggish pace of new homes and rental units tells us this is already happening.

Mr. Dhaliwal of Youthful Cities offered some demographic numbers that explain why young adults are so overlooked. One quarter of the population was between 15 and 29 years of age 50 years ago, while the latest numbers show young adults make up less than 19 per cent.

Young adults lack demographic clout. Telling them to move out of Toronto and Vancouver for better affordability is an easy out.

Are you a young Canadian with money on your mind? To set yourself up for success and steer clear of costly mistakes, listen to our award-winning Stress Test podcast.

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