The Pandemic Only Accelerated an ‘Urban Exodus.’ And it’s here to stay.

Picture this.

It’s April 2020 and you just received word that your company is doing massive layoffs, and you’re on the chopping block.

With no more work, you apply to job postings based in the city you live in. New York City to be exact. After a couple weeks of sending your resume around, you receive an offer for a remote job in the city, and you take it.

It has New York City pay with the benefit of being remote, and you begin to realize there’s no reason to stay in the city anymore. Why resign an expensive lease on your apartment when you can move to a more affordable location outside the city?

Why not receive New York City pay with lower living costs? And so you move to Port Ivory, just outside of Staten Island.

Over a year into the pandemic, there are so many variations of stories like this. Remote work is here to stay, and more people are discovering they can live in cheaper locations even with their dream jobs.

Despite this, there was only a 3% increase in the number of people making moves that they defined as permanent between March 2020 and February 2021, according to Bloomberg. In fact, national migration rates are still considered to be at historic lows.

But that’s not where the story ends.

Because if you focus in on some of America’s most expensive and populous metro regions, you will find a striking pattern.

People are indeed moving—with the percentage increase in moves well into the double digits—just not as far as you think. The migration is taking place in counties of major U.S. metro areas, not between states.

In other words, there’s been a net decrease of movement into the city, while suburbs and smaller cities saw net gains. The flow is more compressed, but no less significant.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 100 people left New York City for every 84 that moved in. Stockton, a suburb of Sacramento, saw 112 move in for every 100 that left. And we can see these shifts in cities across the country.

It’s not the pandemic that created these shifts in movement, but it certainly accelerated it. In fact, the movement would have happened anyway over a few years, but not over a few months.

So where are people moving to, and what are their motivations?

According to a June 2021 survey from CapRelo, a work relocation company, 3 in 4 respondents would consider moving if given the opportunity to work remotely post-pandemic.

In addition, the biggest factor in their decision to move was a more affordable cost of living for 64% of those surveyed. And perhaps the most telling response, over 40% of respondents would move to a different city that was three hours away or less from their current residence.

Is this a sign of an Urban Exodus? Well, kind of. But not really.

According to the Bloomberg article, “even for residents who did move further from an urban center, many remained part of the same regional economy. And most of those who moved further afield tended to stay within a radius of 100 to 150 miles.”

All of this to say, people are not leaving cities in droves, they’re not even leaving the regional economy, but they certainly are leaving.

Slowly, yes, but this is a trend that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, it’s a trend that’s predicted to continue over at least the next several years.

The combination of remote work opportunities and the growing cost of living in urban areas created an accelerated movement away from major cities, with no signs of stopping.