2020 was a game-changer for migration, completely upending established trends. Now that the U.S. is starting to settle into some semblance of normal life in a pandemic, what trends emerge from 2021 domestic moving data?
Only 8.4% of Americans (27 million) reported moving this year making 2021 the lowest mover rate in over 70 years.
However, long-distance, state-to-state moves saw an increase according to new census data.
We crunched the numbers on more than 400,000 relocation queries in 2021 to gain a better picture of the new normal in domestic migration.
- Florida saw a sharp rise in net migration flow in 2021. The ratio of inbound to outbound moves jumped 43 percentage points from 2020 to 2021, meaning more than twice as many people moved into Florida than left it.
- Moves into Idaho are leveling off compared to last year. Where inbound moves outnumbered outbound moves 3 to 1 in 2020, this year the ratio was 1.5 to 1.
- Mass migrations out of California continue, other states seeing high rates of outflow include New Jersey, Illinois, and Connecticut. On the flip side, the state showing the highest rate of inflow vs. outflow was Montana, with 73% of total moves coming in.
- In 2021, Montana had the highest net inflow of moves per capita, with 73% of moves inbound. Billings was the #1 destination with a 3.9 to 1 inbound to outbound ratio.
- Small interstate moves (consisting of one small bedroom or less) were down 10% in 2021 compared to 2020, while every category of larger interstate moves grew.
- When people move out of big cities, they tend to move to other, large cities. Among the 30 most populous American cities, departing residents relocated to cities that were, on average, 30% larger than where they were coming from.
I. Relocating in a pandemic: How COVID-19 continues to impact moving trends in America
The coronavirus pandemic has made for a great deal of turbulence in our home lives, and this has certainly been reflected in domestic moving trends. Here is a quick bird’s eye view of American migration patterns since March 2020.
A dramatic stop and a hasty recovery: Moving amidst a pandemic
The Pew Research Center reported that March 2020 to March 2021 was the slowest year on record for domestic moves, with only 8% of Americans changing residences during this period of lockdowns, joblessness, and mass hospitalizations.
But by the second quarter of 2021, Americans were revving to go forward with moving plans they had put on pause during the beginning of the pandemic. After a year spent working from home, many people began to reconsider their location and the size of their living space.
In our August 2021 survey, more than 13% of Americans reported having moved since March 2020. Furthermore, more than a third of these people cited concerns about COVID-19 or the ability to work from home as a driving motivation for relocating.
Summer 2021 a logistical nightmare for the moving industry
Summers are peak season for the moving industry, with as much as 70% of relocations each year taking place between May and August. But the summer of 2021 ushered in a moving apocalypse, during which unprecedented demand for moving services was met with an industry-wide shortage of workers and logistical headaches.
In our survey of 63 long-distance moving companies, nearly half reported being booked out at least three weeks further than in previous seasons. The labor shortage spurred by COVID-19 played a major role in these delays, with 63% of moving companies reporting they couldn’t hire enough drivers, and 43% reporting they were understaffed for other roles as well.
Additionally, some 8% of moving companies cited the difficulties of navigating the varying COVID-related health and safety regulations from state to state as another challenge facing their business in 2021.
II. State of Flux: Comparing interstate moves between 2020 and 2021
Which states gained the most new residents, and which lost the most to migration? We looked into interstate moving data to see which trends from 2020 continued in 2021, and which trends were bucked.
The following interactive graph shows how the percentage change** of inbound to outbound moves by state has grown or shrunken between 2020 and 2021.
Explosive growth in Florida and Alaska
In 2020, the Sunshine State saw 167% more inbound than outbound moves, making it one of the country’s most popular destinations for movers. This figure exploded in 2021, jumping 42.8% with a total volume of inbound moves more than twice that of outbound moves at 210%. This means that in 2021 for every 100 moves out, 210 were coming in.
What might account for the tremendous uptick in moves to Florida? An analysis by the New School shows that in 2021, 2 million more people than originally projected retired. As we’ll see in Section IV, Florida cities with especially high concentrations of retirees were some of the fastest-growing cities in terms of net migration in 2021.
On the literal opposite side of the country, Alaska is also seeing a spike in residential growth. In 2020, we processed 68% more moving requests into Alaska than out. And in 2021, this number climbed by 38 percentage points, the second largest growth of any state.
The flow to Idaho levels off
Over the past few years, there has been a growing buzz about Idaho. Five cities in the Gem State appeared on our list of 2020’s Fastest Growing Mid-Size Cities, and home prices in the capital and most populous city Boise are rising more sharply than anywhere else in the country.
Make no doubt about it: Idaho is growing. We processed 55% more moves to Idaho than out of Idaho in 2021. But this is a significantly smaller difference than in 2020, when inbound Idaho moves outnumbered outbound moves by more than 3 to 1. The degative net migration percentage change** suggests that the influx of people heading to Idaho may be stabilizing a bit.
Is the mass exodus from New York cooling down?
In 2020, New York was among the most popular places to flee; for every move into New York, we processed two for people wishing to leave. While 2021 wasn’t an overall win for New York in terms of residents gained through migration, the state is among our winners for the most-improved. Though still losing more residents to migration than gaining them, New York’s net migration ratio* improved by 22.5 percentage points in 2021.
III. Which states did people migrate to in 2021?
Looking purely at the top and bottom net inflows from 2021 we would see states with the highest populations at the top of the list and lower populated states at the bottom. But we wanted to know where fresh arrivals are most likely making their presence felt.
So, in order to better understand in which states are people most likely to notice a wave of new neighbors, we compared the volume of net inbound moves for each state with that state’s population***.
The following interactive map shows which state saw the greatest proportion of net migration relative to the population (dark blue), as well as the states that saw the least (pale purple).