This year, the Millennial generation will eclipse the Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation, totaling 75.3 million, according to U.S. Census data.

For our purposes, the Millennials are that broad group born between 1981 and 1997, making them between the ages of 18 and 34 in 2015, as defined by the Pew Research Center.

In Pennsylvania, there are more than 2.8 million of them. More than half a million of them are concentrated in Pennsylvania’s two largest cities, with more than 450,000 living in Philadelphia and more than 100,000 in Pittsburgh.

(Note: Millennials make up more than half of the NEXTpittsburgh audience.)

There is tremendous power in these numbers. The decisions Millennials make will have huge social, economic and political consequences. They are the current generation who are or will become leaders, parents, workers. What they buy, what they think, what they do will have an impact on everyone else.

We once thought the Baby Boomers would be unsurpassed in their influence. But some are leaving the workforce or slowing down. The Millennials are taking their place in numbers and in influence. (Even though Boomers still drive the majority of spending.)

Scott Keeter, the director of survey research for Pew, said the social and political viewpoints of Millennials in particular set them apart from previous generations.

“I think it’s likely that the social tolerance and liberalism of the Millennial generation is perhaps [their] most distinctive feature,” said Keeter. “It reflects the evolving nature of our social values and mores.”

Pew’s research shows that the trend toward voting for Democrats began in 2004, as many Millennials came of voting age. The analysis shows that Obama could’ve won without the Millennials’ vote in 2008, but Keeter said that may not have been the case in 2012.

At that time, Obama won four key battleground states — Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania — in part because he also won 60 percent or more of the votes of those between 18 and 29.

“When we look back over the history of the past 30 or 40 years, young people have not consistently been more liberal or democratic, but this generation is more liberal and democratic than older adults,” Keeter said. “For that reason they’ve been very politically consequential.”

Their liberal leaning politics are among the list of trends and characteristics that set them apart. Millennials:

  • Are driving less and would rather live in walkable, bikeable neighborhoods.
  • Are the first to qualify as “digital natives,” many of them born with tablets and smartphones at their fingertips.
  • Have been disproportionately affected by the recession, facing unemployment and underemployment, yet they are optimistic about the future.
  • Are the most racially diverse generation yet.
  • Wait longer to get married than previous generations and are less likely to link marriage with parenthood.

    Hadley Pratt. Photo by Ohad Cadji.

    Hadley Pratt. Photo by Ohad Cadji.

Hadley Pratt, 24, of Pittsburgh, sees some of these trends reflected both in her personal and professional life.

“I remember a time before the Internet, but [younger people] don’t,” said Pratt. “We’re on the very vanguard — the cutoff point before and after the Internet.”

She said she became an “accidental techie” in the workplace.

“I’ve learned how to do so much of my job from literally Googling things,” she said.

Pratt was hired as nonprofit communications director right after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh. She said she’s one of the lucky ones; she knows she could’ve ended up unemployed or struggling for work.

She chose to live in Bloomfield, a neighborhood in the East End of Pittsburgh, because of its walkability and access to public transit.

“I take the bus every day,” she said. She takes it to get to the South Side where her parents are, to get downtown for work, to get to the East End for her social life.

So how are these attitudes, values and aspirations shaping America? And how do those trends impact Pennsylvania?

City living

National studies show Millennials prefer to live in cities, with 62 percent stating that they want to live in mixed‐use urban communities close to shops, restaurants and offices, according to a 2014 Nielsen consumer report.

Striking a balance between an affordable cost of living and job opportunities has proven difficult. Some of the cities where young people have found the right combination of the two are Denver, Portland and Austin.