WASHINGTON (AP) – Contrary to popular belief, there has been no major migration in the US during the pandemic.
New figures released Wednesday by the US Census Bureau show that the proportion of people who moved in the past year has fallen to its lowest level in 73 years since it has been tracked, contrary to popular anecdotes of people fleeing cities en masse. to escape COVID-19 restrictions or looking for a more rural lifestyle.
“Millennials living in New York City don’t shape the world,” joked Thomas Cooke, a demographics consultant in Connecticut. “My millennial daughter’s friends who lived in Williamsburg, dozens of them came home. It felt like the world was suddenly on the move, but in reality, this isn’t surprising at all.”
In 2021, more than 27 million people, or 8.4% of U.S. residents, reported moving in the past year, according to the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement.
In comparison, 9.3% of US residents moved from 2019 to 2020. Three decades ago, that figure was 17%.
The COVID-19 pandemic has not only resulted in on-site shelter restrictions, but may also have forced people to postpone life cycle events, such as marriages or having babies, which often lead to relocations. But the drop is part of a decades-long migration decline in the US, said William Frey, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution.
“These numbers show that a lot of people didn’t move or moved more slowly,” Frey said. “But it’s a longer-term trend.”
That’s not to say no one moved. The only increase in mobility patterns last year occurred in longer-distance trips, from state to state, compared to intra-state or provincial travel. Those 4.3 million residents who moved to another state may have done so because of the pandemic, Frey said.
Demographics expert Andrew Beveridge used change of address data to show that as people moved out of New York, particularly to affluent neighborhoods, at the height of the pandemic, those neighborhoods recouped their numbers just months later. As for the nation as a whole, Beveridge said he was not surprised that migration was declining.
People wearing masks load furniture into a U-haul moving truck as the city continues Phase 4 of reopening after restrictions imposed on September 12, 2020 in New York City to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“The same thing happened during the financial crisis. Nobody moved. Nobody married. Nobody had children,” said Beveridge, a professor of sociology at Queens College and the Graduate School and University Center at the City University of New York. “All the demographic changes are kind of coming to a standstill.”
Other factors that have contributed to Americans staying put include an aging population, as older people are less likely to move than younger ones; the ability to telecommute for work, which allowed some employees to change jobs without having to relocate; and rising house prices and rents that kept some would-be movers in place, demographers said.
“I think the huge increase in remote work because of COVID combined with the economic shock is the big reason,” said Mary Craigle, bureau chief of Montana’s Research and Information Services.
Mobility in the US has been declining since 1985, when 20% of US residents moved. That was an era when baby boomers were young adults, starting careers, getting married and starting families. By comparison, millennials, who today are in the same age bracket as their baby boomers in the mid-1980s, are stuck because of high housing costs and underemployment, according to an analysis Frey did last year.
Advances in telecommunications and transportation have contributed to the decades-long decline in American mobility. Today, people can remotely study, work and visit family and friends. In the latter half of the last century, the highway system allowed people to work 50 miles from their homes without having to come closer for work, said Cooke, a professor emeritus at the University of Connecticut.
Increasing economic uncertainty in recent decades has also made US residents less mobile since “when there’s uncertainty, people appreciate what they already have,” he said.
The slowdown in US mobility is part of a recent stagnation in US population dynamics. The 2020 census shows that the US has grown by just 7.4% in the past decade, its lowest rate since 1930 to 1940. Earlier this week, the Census Bureau revealed that the US population center moved just 12 miles, the smallest shift in 100 years.