We’ve heard a lot about people fleeing cities and moving to the countryside – but until now, much of that has not been proven. A Wall Street Journal analysis of U.S. Postal Service permanent change-of-address data through 2020 provides the clearest picture yet of how millions of domestic moves during the pandemic supercharged demographic shifts. The results of the 2020 Census that was released in May 2021 does not paint an accurate picture of just how and where people moved because of Covid-19.
What the Journal found was those big cities including New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Boston saw hundreds of thousands more residents move out than in, in changes they labeled permanent, causing the net loss of households from migration to widen by 71% in 2020 from the previous year. New York City saw more net moves out last year than it did during the two prior years combined. New York City’s property tax revenues for the coming fiscal year are projected to decline by $2.5 billion, the largest drop since 1996, as the values of office buildings and hotels have sunk. Median asking rent for Manhattan apartments fell 21% in March compared with the previous year as demand fell, according to real-estate site StreetEasy.
The state of New York lost a net of about 150,000 households from migration last year, more than any other state and double the amount from the previous year, the postal service figures show. From coast to coast, Americans migrated toward less-dense, more-affordable areas as they sought more space and, in some cases, became untethered by the ability to work from anywhere according to their reporting. Nationwide, the South, especially Florida and Texas, added households, while the Northeast lost them. Suburbs are emerging as the winners from these changes, marking the end of a decade long growth trend for big cities. The financial impact of these moves will be considerable – in the largest cities, the moves are causing a loss of billions of dollars of annual property tax revenue and fueling double-digit decreases in rents. In 2020, higher-income neighborhoods lost more residents to migration than lower-income neighborhoods. And for those densely populated office buildings?
The Wall St. Journal says that many companies have signaled a new openness to remote work even after the pandemic ends, and as a result cities are bracing for a future where spending on public transportation, lunches and other drivers of the urban economy don’t return to pre-pandemic levels. Supermarkets must heed the population shift warning – most retailers plan their new store locations years in advance. It might just be time to put a hold and review upcoming openings.