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The ‘Great Migration’ during Covid may not have actually happened

<i>Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images</i><br/>The US Census Bureau released data showing that migration activity has fallen to its lowest rate in more than 70 years
Getty Images
Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images
The US Census Bureau released data showing that migration activity has fallen to its lowest rate in more than 70 years

By Alicia Wallace, CNN Business

The “Great Migration” may not be as pronounced as once thought.

The US Census Bureau this week released data showing that migration activity has fallen to its lowest rate in more than 70 years. The findings toss some cold water on anecdotes that Americans were relocating more than ever during the pandemic.

From 2020 to 2021, nearly 27.1 million Americans, or 8.4%, reported living in a different residence than the year prior, according to the latest geographic mobility data from the Census Bureau. The migration rate, which has steadily declined since 2014-2015, is the lowest in more than 70 years, according to Census estimates of Consumer Population Survey data that go back to 1948.

The overall picture is consistent some ongoing migration research.

While there might not have been a massive overall trend of people moving across the country, net migration out of urban neighborhoods did increase during the early stages of the pandemic, said Stephan D. Whitaker, a policy economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, who has been closely studying migration patterns.

He analyzed the Federal Reserve Bank of New York/Equifax Consumer Credit Panel, which tracks a random sample of 10 million consumers’ whereabouts based on their credit profiles. The analysis showed an urban exodus that was driven primarily by a decrease in the number of people moving into urban neighborhoods.

“Flows of migrants out of high-cost, large metro areas did increase during the pandemic,” Whitaker said via email Thursday. “However, many other types of moves, both long distance and local, declined. Summing all these moves reveals that, overall, fewer people relocated during the first year of the pandemic.”

In updating his research, Whitaker found that some of the outflow from high-cost metro areas continued through the second quarter of 2021, sending people to nearby small metro areas and rapid-growth destinations like Las Vegas and Nashville. But at the same time, people started returning to large metro areas, although not enough to replace those who had left.

It’s possible, Whitaker said, that the pandemic accelerated the long-term trend of aging Millennials and Generation Z members with families looking to purchase their first home, resulting in the uptick in “outflows.”

“I think it’s just a matter of time that the inflows will continue to catch up to these accelerated outflows that we’ve seen this year,” Whitaker said during a recent interview with CNN Business.

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