Traditionally, young people come to the big city with a dream; then, when that dream inevitably fails to materialize, many of them move away to some smaller, more forgiving town and cry silently, years later, at what might have been. Now, the fucking tables have turned.

In a demographic shift that constitutes some previously unknown level of irony—SocioUrbanEconoMetaIrony, perhaps—young people who came to the big city with a dream now find themselves unable to afford to leave the city, not only because of the expense of moving, but because the prospects for even paycheck-to-paycheck survival seem even worse in America's lesser cities (despite their supply of one bedroom apartments that cost less than $1800 per month). This is not just a perception; it is an actual numerical trend, laid out in this Wall Street Journal story today that begins with the tragic sentence, "Amira Nader graduated from Columbia University in 2010 with a master's degree in acting and nearly $190,000 in debt."

For countless bright young dreamers, the city that was once their mecca has become—either by choice or by necessity—an inescapable magnet. A magnet made of three people living in a two bedroom apartment, and they all have two jobs, and do Upright Citizens Brigade comedy at night.

From 2004 to 2007, before the recession, an average of about 50,000 adults aged 25 to 34 left both the New York and Los Angeles metro areas annually, after accounting for new arrivals, according to an analysis of census data by the Brookings Institution and The Wall Street Journal.

The recession diminished this flow. Fewer than 23,000 young adults left New York annually between 2010 and 2013. Only about 12,000 left Los Angeles—a drop of nearly 80% from before the recession. Chicago's departures dropped about 60%.

In yet another cruel twist of irony, this pile-up of underemployed millennials in our nation's urban centers makes it even more overcrowded, overcompetitive, and expensive for each year's new wave of white kids with doomed dreams of achieving fame and fortune in The Big City.

All of this, of course, pales in comparison to this trend's biggest threat: the "I Lived in New York City and Now I'm Leaving New York City and Let Me Tell You Why At Length" essay industry could become critically endangered, leaving young writers with even less of an incentive to get the fuck out of here, potentially creating a negative never-leaving feedback loop that could bury us all.

Pray for jobs—elsewhere.

[Photo: Flickr]