by Sarah Mirk
This week in the paper, I wrote about two Portland State University researchers who dug into the "Portlandia hypothesis" about the city being where "young people go to retire." The studies are really interesting and you should go read about them, but I was wondering what the people behind Portlandia think of all the hubbub around the joke. This year, I visited friends in LA, New York, and San Francisco and every single place I went, people responded to where I was from with some sort of line like, "Portland? Oh, so, you're retired?"
For this week's story, I emailed with Portlandia producer (and all-around nice guy) David Cress about the over-used joke, how it got started, and how it hits home.
MERCURY: Why do you think that "young people go to retire" joke has gotten so much traction—enough to warrant a study? In what ways is it an accurate jab at Portland?
DAVID CRESS: I do sympathize with academics and economists when they are trying to figure out some of the contradictions inherent in Portland economy. For instance, how does a city with such a low mean per-capita income support so may high-end restaurants and coffee shops and dog walkers? Who the hell can afford to live in all those condos? Having lived here for many years I ask myself those questions all the time.
How did that joke come about? Do you remember who originally said it or what you thought when you first heard it?
I first heard it at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival. I think it was Patton Oswalt who said his visit to Portland had convinced him someone had accidentally exploded an anti-ambition bomb in Portland. He also speculated that we may be, as a populace, smoking too much weed. I don't believe any of our writers were at that show so it may be a conclusion many people are reaching at the same time.
The study found that young Portlanders are seeking work or already working at rates equal to the rest of the country, but that we have the highest underemployment for any city in the country. What are your thoughts on this reality, as someone who knows Portland well?
We do seem to have a great supply of educated and creative young people. Its been a plus to the film industry. The wages positions are good given the relative cost of living reduction of Portland over LA or NY so I don't think that factors in. I think we get to choose candidates who in general are stronger than I'd get in LA or NY especially in the entry level positions and the less technical positions.