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Are people leaving American cities?

With the pandemic wreaking havoc on urban environments at its onset, some commenters have suggested the city as we know it may be coming to an end.

Are people leaving American cities?

Not so fast.

At the start of the pandemic, about one in five Americans relocated or knew someone who has. The largest cohort to move was young adults aged 18 to 29, with about one in 10 relocating. Job losses and the shutdown of college housing in the early spring were main factors. Of all adults who relocated, 18% said their reasons for relocating were financial, while 20% said they wanted to be with family, according to June 2020 data from Pew Research Center.

Shifting tides

Now the tide appears to be shifting. Cities that saw an exodus leaving their borders are starting to see populations return. New York City added 1,900 people in the first two months of 2021 versus a loss of 7,100 in the same two months of 2019 and an estimated loss of 110,000 people in 2020.

Still, relocation from cities has led to gains in the suburbs which may be permanent. The rise of remote work has led some urban dwellers to move to better-priced options out of the city. A recent report from real estate platform Zillow says more than one in 10 Americans moved during the pandemic. Seventy-five percent of movers say they moved for positive reasons, such as being closer to family. Per the report, Phoenix AZ, Charlotte NC, and Austin TX saw the highest net inbound moves in the first 11 months of 2020, as movers sought out relative affordability and warmer weather. Sun Belt metros are expected to continue a surge in 2021.

Staying in the city

A report from LendingTree studying migration data from 2019 to 2020 notes that homeowners are not relocating far from urban settings. More homeowners left a metropolitan area for a micropolitan area in 2020 than they did in 2019, but not by much. In 2019, an average of 1.91% of homeowners who lived in one of the nation’s 50 largest cities and moved, moved to a town. In 2020, that share was 2.18%.

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