The “not so great migration:” Census Bureau finds movements at a low point of 73 years

The U.S. Census Bureau this week released data showing that migration activity has fallen to its lowest rate in more than 70 years. The results throw some cold water on anecdotes that Americans moved more than ever before during the pandemic.

From 2020 to 2021, nearly 27.1 million Americans, or 8.4%, reported living in a dwelling other than the year before, according to the latest geographic mobility data from the Census Bureau. The migration rate, which has been falling steadily since 2014-2015, is the lowest in more than 70 years, according to Census estimates from Consumer Population Survey data dating back to 1948.

The overall picture is consistent with some ongoing migration research.

While there may not have been a massive overall trend for people to move across the country, net migration rose from urban neighborhoods in the early stages of the pandemic, said Stephan D. Whitaker, a political economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland who has closely studied migration patterns.

He analyzed the Federal Reserve Bank of New York / Equifax Consumer Credit Panel, which tracks a random sample of 10 million consumers’ residences based on their credit profiles. The analysis showed an urban exodus that was primarily driven by a decline in the number of people moving into urban neighborhoods.

“The flows of migrants out of high-cost, large metro areas increased during the pandemic,” Whitaker said via email Thursday. “But many other types of relocations, both long-distance and local, declined. In summary, all of these relocations reveal that overall fewer people relocated during the first year of the pandemic.”

In updating his research, Whitaker found that some of the outflow from high-end metro areas continued through the second quarter of 2021, sending people to nearby small metro areas and fast-growing destinations like Las Vegas and Nashville. But at the same time, people began to return to large metro areas, though not enough to replace those who had traveled.

It is possible, Whitaker said, that the pandemic accelerated long-term trend of aging Millennials and Generation Z members with families looking to buy their first home, resulting in the increase in “outflow”.

“I think it’s just a matter of time before the influx will continue to catch up with these accelerated outflows that we’ve seen this year,” Whitaker said in a recent interview with CNN Business.


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