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The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted demographic trends in a number of ways, from lower birth rates to increased death rates to reductions in immigration. But one of the most significant changes is where people are choosing to live as they migrate within the U.S.
In the early months of the pandemic, many city dwellers left for less-populated locations where physical distancing was easier, outdoor activities were more plentiful, and living space for remote work and schooling was more affordable. Now, as COVID-19’s long-term effects on work become clearer, including permanent remote work arrangements and massive shifts in employees’ career preferences, flexibility in where to live and work has become critical for many workers. As a result, “second-tier cities,” suburbs, and small towns are seeing an influx of new residents looking to take advantage of their new work arrangements in more affordable locales.
On some level, however, these COVID-driven migrations are also reflective of recent pre-pandemic population trends. One of the important factors driving this trend is the affordability of real estate. While many young, highly-educated professionals in recent years have tended to cluster in major metros for their quality jobs and amenities, these locales also usually have higher costs of living. For those raising families or just seeking out affordable real estate, many of these densely populated locations now hold less appeal.
The result of this trend is that certain states have experienced much more rapid population growth than others. While major metros in states like California and New York do have appeal for young job-seekers, the states themselves have been experiencing weak or even negative population growth over the past decade. Instead, more affordable states like Texas, Florida, and Colorado have grown at a strong clip over the last ten years. More recently, they have been joined by Mountain West locations including Idaho, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona, the four fastest-growing states from 2015 to 2020.