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The Pandemic Talent Drain: How Real Was It? 

At the height of the pandemic, it was an article of faith that outmigration resulted in a talent drain from large cities. Three years later, the premise seems overblown. CBRE has published an analysis of migration data which showed that most large U.S. cities have lost less than 1% of their white-collar workforces since the pandemic. Conversely, a few, including New York City, have gained workers in recent months. 

CBRE analyzed LinkedIn Talent data to chart aggregate movement of professionals from 2020 through February 2023. Among the findings: 

  • The talent drain from large cities during and since the pandemic was minimal when put in context. San Francisco lost 0.9% of its workforce, Los Angeles lost 0.2% and New York City lost 0.6% between 2020 and 2023. 
  • Many Sunbelt cities saw a net inflow of professionals in that time frame, including Austin (up 4.1%), Nashville (up 2.6%) and Tampa (up 2.6%). 
  • “The trend of talent migration out of high-cost major markets is slowing and, in metro New York, reversing,” the report says. “Metro New York’s talent out-migration in the first two years of the pandemic morphed into a net talent inflow during the year ending in February 2023. No other major metro area has seen a similar reversal but out-migration has slowed in San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles. Washington, DC was the only major market with a slightly higher rate of out-migration over the past year ending February 2023.” 
  • Meanwhile, according to the report, “several top destinations for talent during the pandemic are now seeing lower levels of in-migration, including Austin, Nashville, Denver, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Miami and Atlanta. However, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Charlotte, Tampa, Orlando and Houston bucked this trend with higher in-migration” over the year that ended this past February.  
  • Ultimately, CBRE says, all of the percentages are relative. Even at the pace of 4.1% growth, Austin would need more than 80 years to reach the size of San Francisco’s workforce. 
  • CBRE also analyzed migration patterns for tech workers and finance workers. The biggest gains in tech workers occurred in Austin, where the talent pool increased by 15%, and in Seattle, where it rose 11.5%. The biggest gains in finance workers came in Charlotte (up 1.9%) and Tampa (up 1.7%). 

“Pandemic-driven outmigration from major metro areas has minimally affected talent availability in those large markets,” said Chris Volney, managing director of labor analytics in CBRE’s Americas Consulting division. “Over the past year, the rate of outmigration in the largest metros has slowed – even reversing in some cases. Further, many of the largest U.S. markets, such as New York, Seattle and Chicago, also are among the top markets attracting in-migration of younger tech and finance workers.” 


Inside The Story

CBRE's Volney

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 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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