Report: Pandemic Migration Accelerated Existing Trends

Despite some transformative changes and brief spikes in domestic migration, the Covid-19 pandemic seems to be exacerbating existing declines in internal mobility.

2 minute read

March 16, 2023, 9:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

View of back of moving van with back door open, loaded with boxes, next to a line of two-story apartment buildings.

New Africa / Moving van

A new brief from Riordan Frost of the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University updates Frost’s prior research on residential migration in the United States, revealing new insights about migration since the start of the pandemic and how it compares to previous trends. 

Frost explains that “residential mobility rates have been declining for the past four decades,” and, aside from two spikes in the first year of the pandemic, trends stayed largely the same.

“One finding was that the types of moves and movers that had the steepest mobility rate declines before the pandemic remained the same during the pandemic.” Mobility rates declined across age, race, and ethnicity groups, but households with higher incomes were more likely to move. “Perhaps most notably, rural counties attracted more migrants than usual” as remote work untethered people from cities and high housing costs drove them farther out.

Monthly data allows for more nuanced analysis. “These data reveal that moves spiked twice early in the pandemic before reverting to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2021 and falling further throughout 2022. As a result, USPS data show all types of moves—individual, family, permanent, and temporary—were lower in 2022 than before the pandemic.” Interestingly, “there were no mobility spikes during later surges like those associated with the Delta and Omicron variants.”

Frost concludes that “The paradigm-shifting nature of the pandemic makes it difficult to assess whether and how mobility patterns will change in coming years, but there are many factors pointing to a continued decline in mobility rates.” 

Tuesday, March 14, 2023 in Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University

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