Who's Moving in the US and Where are They Going?
Jan 06, 2022
For two years, we’ve heard that Americans are moving at record numbers, fleeing densely populated urban centers to reduce their risk of catching coronavirus, cope with reduced income, or be near family.
But do the statistics back up that narrative? It depends on which statistics you’re looking at.
Are More People Moving?
According to a study of USPS change of address forms indicates that nearly nine million US residents have changed their location during the pandemic, an 11.75% increase from previous data.
The US Census Bureau shows a trend in the opposite direction. According to the
Annual Social and Economic Supplement of the Current Population Survey, released each March, shows the lowest rate of relocation in the 70 years since the survey was first administered.
The difference in these data sets is based at least partially between the inclusion or exclusion of temporary moves. The USPS data includes residents who submitted temporary change of address forms, which indicate that the resident intends to return within six months. Temporary change of address requests increased more than 25% during the pandemic. These movers are not counted by the US Census Bureau.
Who Is Moving?
One trend has certainly remained constant: the majority of movers are people with young families or empty nesters. The average mover has one or two children and is between the ages of 18 to 34 on one end of the spectrum, and on the other end are couples 55 and older, that are looking to relocate to their chosen retirement areas.
When Are They Moving?
Since most movers are single-family homeowners, it makes sense that May and August have long been established as the most desirable months in which to make a move. Parents of school-age children usually find it preferable not to disrupt their children’s education with a mid-year move.
This pattern was broken during the upheaval of the last two years. The number of moves in March 2020 was on par with August of the same year, while May moves declined significantly in popularity.
It remains to be seen whether May and August will reestablish themselves as the hottest moving months of the year.
Where Are They Moving?
Remote work loosened the tether of the office, but the data shows that single-family homeowners largely stay within a few hours of their workplace, migrating from densely populated urban centers to the suburban areas around them.
But was this really due to the pandemic? The data shows that the depopulation of city centers has been occurring at a steady rate for years. Many city dwellers may already have been considering or planning a move, and the pandemic provided a convenient opportunity.
States Setting Net Migration Records
Interstate moves may make up a smaller percentage of total moves, but much can be learned by comparing the relative population gains and losses on a state by state level.
Subtracting the number of outbound residents from the number of inbound residents allows us to see the overall change to a state’s population, known as the net migration gain or loss.
34 states can claim a net migration gain since the start of the pandemic. It appears that the pandemic accelerated an existing trend of moves to the Sun Belt; Florida, Arizona, and Texas saw the largest net migration gains in the country. 18 of the 20 cities with the largest population gains are located in one of those three states.
The three states that saw the largest population loss are, unsurprisingly, the three states with the largest, most densely populated cities, namely New York, California, and Illinois.
What to Expect Next?
Without foresight into the management of the global pandemic, it’s difficult to make specific predictions. However, there is no reason to expect a reversal in the trend of single-family homeowners moving their households from urban centers to less densely populated areas. Likewise, Americans are likely to continue to flock to warm, temperate climates in the Sun Belt.