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Migration in the Pandemic Was Less Than Expected, But with “Major Implications”

The mass exodus from major urban centers such as New York City and San Francisco during the height of the pandemic was more anecdotal than the numbers show, says Placer.ai. “While it may be self-evident that American migration patterns would change during COVID, the shift was not as dramatic as many expected,” the firm says in a new white paper.

That doesn’t mean that the effects should be downplayed, though. “Even small shifts in migration patterns can have major implications on strategic business decisions,” the whitepaper states. “It impacts how retailers reach their audiences, which office space strategies top employers must utilize and how cities and regions drive key tax revenue.”

Most states saw population change of no more than 1% during the 12-month period that ended this past January. “But while overall population changes were not dramatic, some states saw exceptional migration rates throughout the pandemic,” according to Placer.ai.

“Low-populated states like Montana and Idaho experienced year-over-year population growth of 3.7% and 3.9%, respectively. Hawaii and Alaska also experienced a noticeable positive migration pattern, seeing population increases of 2.0% and 1.4%, respectively.

In contrast, Placer.ai says a general push toward the suburbs during the pandemic has led to “a significant negative migration pattern in states centered around high-density urban areas. States like New York, Massachusetts, and California experienced negative migration rates of -1.8%, -1.4%, and -1.1%, respectively.

“However, no matter how the shifts are understood, it is clear that there was no ‘mass net exodus’ from any state – with population rates staying fairly steady in most. Something that shows both the ‘stickiness’ of a home base and the related costs of leaving to a new area.”

Where more noticeable shifts in migration occurred was at the CBSA (core-based statistical area) level. The data on CBSA-level migration show “a clear distinction between northern and southern cities,” says Placer.ai.

“While southern cities like Phoenix, Austin, Tampa, and Charleston drew in many Americans during 2020, major northern and city-oriented metropolitans – including several less known for their ideal weather – experienced a negative migration pattern. San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, and New York all saw significant dips.”

Apart from New York City, where around 85% of all migration was to and from out-of-state, other analyzed CBSAs containing major cities saw out-of-state migration between 55% and 75%. “This fact has significant implications for cross-state workforce planning, office and retail distribution, and other strategic decisions for national or regional businesses,” Placer.ai says.

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About Paul Bubny

Paul Bubny serves as Senior Content Director for Connect Commercial Real Estate, a role to which he brings 13-plus years’ experience covering the commercial real estate industry and 30-plus years in business-to-business journalism. In this capacity, he oversees daily operations while also reporting on both local/regional markets and national trends, covering individual transactions across all property types, as well as delving into broader subject matter. He produces 15-20 daily news stories per day and works with the Connect team and clients to develop longer-form content, ranging from Q&As to thought-leadership pieces. Prior to joining Connect, Paul was Managing Editor for both Real Estate Forum and GlobeSt.com at American Lawyer Media, where he oversaw operations at both publications while also producing daily news and feature-length articles. His tenure in B2B publishing stretches back into the print era, and he has served as Editor in Chief on four national trade publications. Since 1999, Paul has volunteered as the newsletter editor of passenger rail advocacy groups (one national, one local).

  • ◦Economy
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