Moving Trends and Statistics in the US During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Despite the pandemic, a lot of Americans have moved over the past year.

Molly Henderson

Molly has been writing about the moving industry for more than 10 years and knows exactly what makes a mover great.

 ·  8 min

The COVID-19 pandemic has just passed its 1st anniversary. In the year that the pandemic has been wreaking havoc across the world, forcing governments to impose lockdowns, close borders, and restrict business activities, a lot has changed. However, people have still been moving.

In this article, we examine America’s moving patterns and statistics during the year of COVID-19.

People Are Always Moving 

People moved for various reasons during the year of COVID-19. The majority of people who moved during the pandemic did not do so because of reasons linked to the coronavirus. This is a view acknowledged by the data journalist Marie Patino in an article published by Bloomberg.com.

Patino says that the movements noted during COVID-19 “vary significantly by city and region — and in many cases likely accelerate trends already in effect before the pandemic.”

Nonetheless, there is no denying that many people moved because of the pandemic. Some moved into less expensive accommodation or back home when they found themselves without a job. Others moved to bigger houses when they needed more space because they now had to work from home or live with extended family. Students found themselves moving back home when universities suddenly closed down.

The nonpartisan and nonprofit venture dedicated to explaining to readers about the California State Capitol’s workings, Calmatters.org, shows the pandemic’s effects on moving trends in California.  

In an article written by Lauren Hepler, the publication says, “Now, the pandemic has stripped away amenities used to justify California’s high costs, and created a backlog of 1.6 million unemployment claims in the state with the nation’s highest functional poverty rate.” The article then tells stories of people who decided to sell their homes and leave California for more affordable states after losing their jobs and sources of livelihoods.

Hepler’s article could be a microcosm of the devastation triggered by the coronavirus, which drove many people to finally make that decision to move.

However, the chief economist at Apartment List, Igor Popov, pours cold water on any mass exodus suggestions. “There is not this flee that people are necessarily engaged in,” he says.

How Many People Moved During COVID-19?

A December 2020 article published by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported that 8.9 million people had moved since the start of the pandemic. The NAR says that it got its numbers by collecting “United States Postal Service change-of-address data from March to October 2020 for each county across the United States.”

One could argue that the 8.9 million people who moved during the year of COVID-19 were always going to move because people were moving before the pandemic started. To deal with this issue, the NAR says that it compared the number of people who relocated during the pandemic with those from the same time the previous year. The tally showed that around 94,000 people more moved in the year of COVID-19. 

Even though the NAR figures show an increase in moves based on United States Postal Service change-of-address data, Patino writes an article for Bloomberg.com telling a different story. She says, “Despite talk of an urban exodus, fewer people moved during the height of the pandemic.”

Patino cites figures from two national moving companies. However, the data used by Patino only covers about three months, representing the height of the pandemic. Also, the fact that she says it was collected from two moving companies shows that her sample is limited. Many people may have moved without the help of a moving company, especially for those moving temporarily.  

Who Moved Due To COVID-19 in the US?

According to the Pew Research Center, “About a fifth of US adults [22%] moved due to COVID-19 or know someone who did.” But who exactly has been moving during the pandemic?

Based on the results of a survey conducted in June 2020 involving 9,654 US adults, Pew Research reports that 3% of the respondents indicated that they themselves had moved, either temporarily or permanently, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Six percent of the respondents said that someone had moved in with them because of COVID-19. Among those who did not move, 14 percent said that they knew someone that moved.

When Pew Research conducted another survey in November 2020, the number of respondents who said they had moved due to the COVID-19 outbreak, either temporarily or permanently, rose to 5%. Even though the numbers were slightly different in the November 2020 survey, the same trends noted in the June 2020 survey persisted.   

Young Adults Moved More Than Any Other Group 

An interesting observation from the June 2020 Pew Research findings is that the group most likely to have been affected by COVID-19 to the extent that they had to move are young adults. The research center reports that “37% of those aged 18 to 29 say they moved, someone moved into their home or they know someone who moved because of the outbreak.” 

When it comes to demographics, Pew Research reports that the biggest group that moved due to the effects of COVID-19 are the Hispanics (28%), followed by Asian Americans (24%) and Whites (20%). The group that reported the least movement are the Blacks (19%).

Chances of Moving for People With a Bachelor’s Degree Are Higher

In terms of educational attainment, Pew Research reports that those with a bachelor’s degree (20%) were likely to have moved because of COVID-19 or know someone who did. This is compared to 18% of respondents without a bachelor’s degree who said they moved for the same reasons or knew someone who did.  

The higher moving rates among people with bachelor’s degrees compared with those who do not have one could be explained by Popov’s views. Bloomberg.com quotes Popov saying, “I think there’s certainly a socioeconomic pocket that is maybe making these moves and is able to make these moves.” 

Why Did People Move During COVID-19?

Between 18 and 29 November 2020, Pew Research conducted another survey to determine why Americans moved. The results show that “As the pandemic persisted, financial pressures became a bigger factor in why Americans decided to move.”

Pew Research reports that “Adults in lower-income households (9%) were more likely to say they moved due to the virus than those with middle (3%) or upper incomes (4%).”

HireAHelper.com reports that 25% of Americans’ moves in 2020 can be attributed to the pandemic. Among the moves triggered by COVID-19, HireAHelper.com reports that 35% of such moves are related to financial hardship. Other reasons include supporting family and seeking safety.    

Apart from financial reasons, the November 2020 Pew survey unearthed other reasons: to be near family (17%); higher COVID-19 risk where the people relocating were living (14%); closure of college campus (14%); excessive COVID-19 restrictions where the people that relocated were living (12%).  

Data collected by United Van Lines supports the idea that COVID-19 influenced moving patterns. For instance, the company reports that “Data from March to October 2020 also revealed the COVID-19 pandemic influenced Americans’ decisions to move.” It reports that 60% of its clients moved because of “concerns for personal and family health and wellbeing.”

Figures from HireAHelper.com show that “36% of respondents moved to somewhere where they felt safer, i.e., somewhere with fewer COVID-19 cases, or more restrictions.”

Where Are the People Coming From?  

Even though there may be different figures regarding whether more people moved during the pandemic or not, it is generally accepted that the pandemic triggered many moves. But where did the people who moved come from?

Not Fleeing Cities

Patino says that it would be an exaggeration to say that moving trends during the pandemic constitute people fleeing the cities. However, she agrees that the sources she cites for her information “looked at demand for suburban versus urban areas based on searches for homes, not actual moves.”

Even after the caveat about the data collection methods used by the sources she cites, Patino believes that the idea that there is a mass exodus from the urban areas is exaggerated. She argues that “if history is any indication, predictions of a mass urban exodus are unlikely to come true,” as cities generally tend to recover after a pandemic.  

New York and Illinois Lead the Outbound List

Several suggestions have been made that cities like New York are seeing an exodus of people due to the pandemic. United Van Lines uses its customer data to list some cities with the highest rates of people moving out.

Even though the word exodus may be a bit strong, United Van Lines lists New York and Illinois as the leading cities that people are moving out of. Other areas joining New York and Illinois are California and Connecticut.

Atlas Van Lines also released a migration study. They listed the 10 US States with the highest number of people moving out. As can be expected, New York and Illinois top that list. While California is also on the Atlas Van Lines list, Connecticut is not listed in the top 10.

Where Are People Moving To? 

Students of various ethnic backgrounds wearing masks in front of a school

From an analysis of 75.000 moves facilitated by HireAHelper.com, there were “twice as many people moving in than out” of Idaho.

The HireAHelper.com analysis agrees with those who argue that the pandemic did not necessarily “herald ‘the death of the city,’ whereby many Americans, who all of a sudden became able to and were forced to work from home, would move out to the country.”

Nonetheless, Hire A Helper notes that many people moving during the pandemic “are keen on escaping the crushing costs of living in America’s biggest cities like NYC or LA, they’re simply going to smaller cities, which likely still afford them a similar level of comfort at a lower price point.” 

From Densely Populated Areas to Sparsely Populated Areas

Even though it’s clear that people are not moving out of the big cities in droves or fleeing the cities as some would put it, there is no denying that many people moved out of the cities. This reality is acknowledged by MyMove.com, which reports that “Data shows that people moved from densely populated urban areas – like Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Chicago [to] less populated cities.”  

In the MyMove.com top 10 towns that gained people during the pandemic, six cities are in Texas. This is attributed to Texas providing several attractive features like lots of open space, a lower cost of living, and a variety of smaller towns.

MyMove.com also notes that people did not always move far from where they initially stayed. It gives an example of Chicago, Illinois, and Evanston, Illinois. Data shows more people moving from the former (with 2.7 million people) to the latter (74,000 people). The two areas are less than 20 miles from each other.

The idea that people who moved during the pandemic were not going far from where they originally lived is supported by numbers from HireAHelper.com, which show that “60% of people who moved relocated within the same county.”

In Which Months Did Most Moves Happen During the Pandemic?

According to the NAR, most of the moves that happened during the pandemic were in March 2020. The NAR reports that the number of moves in March 2020 topped 1.23 million, up from 1.00 million in the same period of 2019.

The NAR figures show a rapid drop in the number of movers between March 2020 and May 2020. The numbers start to rise again in June 2020, stabilizing between July and August before going down again for the rest of the year.

People Moved but It’s Nothing Drastic

From the data presented by the different organizations above, we can conclude that, while COVID-19 impacted moving trends, people did not flee the cities as some may have predicted. Indeed, many people left the big cities for less densely populated areas, but still, many also arrived in the big cities.

What is clear from the numbers above is that America is constantly moving and will likely continue to do so after COVID-19. What is yet to be seen is the long-term impact of COVID-19 on how Americans live their lives in general. This will likely influence their moving decisions in the future.  

Molly Henderson

Molly has been writing about the moving industry for more than 10 years and knows exactly what makes a mover great.

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