How many people actually moved because of the pandemic? Though it’s hard to know movers’ exact motivations, new data reveals migration patterns during the height of Covid-19 lockdowns in most states.
Change of address data from the United States Postal Service reveals that 15.9 million people moved between February and July this year, according to MyMove, a platform that provides information for people who are relocating. MyMove analyzed data from both USPS and a Pew Research Center survey of 10,000 U.S. adults that was conducted in July.
Whether the newly relocated will stay in their new homes is less clear: The number of people who permanently moved was up by just 4 percent from the same period in 2019, while temporary moves rose by a more substantial 27 percent. Those temporary moves spiked in March and April, suggesting that people decided to be with family or relocated to a second home during the lockdowns.
“About a quarter (28%) told us [they chose to move] because they feared getting Covid-19 if they stayed where they were living,” said D’Vera Cohn, who authored the Pew survey. “About a fifth (20%) said they wanted to be with their family, or their college campus closed (23%). A total of 18% gave financial reasons, including job loss.”
The USPS data also showed that many people who moved left densely populated urban areas in favor of less-densely populated areas.
Manhattan saw the biggest increase in moves, with 110,978 people departing — a 500 percent increase compared to the same period in 2019. Brooklyn followed, losing 43,006 people during the same time period. Residents of Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Naples, Florida, Washington, D.C. and Houston also saw large drops in population during that period.
While it remains to be seen if the urban-to-suburban exodus will be a long-term thing, USPS data shows that many city dwellers did relocate to smaller, less urban areas. Two suburbs of Houston — Katy and Richmond — gained 4,400 and 3,000 new residents, respectively.
East Hampton, New York, also saw an influx of nearly 2,500 residents. In March, as government-mandated lockdowns set in, real estate brokers in the Hamptons said that a run on pricey rentals led to bidding wars for some properties.
The exodus from Manhattan led to a historic vacancy rate of 5 percent in September after setting a new record for each of the four preceding months.
If the vacancy rate stays that high, it could potentially lead to the repeal of the city’s rent regulations, which depends on a vacancy rate below 5 percent. That threshold, however, is set by legislators, and a new Housing & Vacancy Survey is not scheduled to be conducted until 2022.