Aerial view of Austin, TX downtown skyline with adjacent Colorado River.

Anthropology: Modern Human Migration During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Where are people going during the Pandemic? and more importantly why?

This blog post is written to try to capture and identify new trends on where people are moving to during the pandemic. With the advent of remote work, work in over priced urban areas is shifting to more remote work in less expensive areas. This distribution or migration is evident in the United States especially, however I’d like to take a macroscopic look at the impact the pandemic has had on living situations, real estate prices, and lifestyles especially here in the United States.

The COVID Migration trends in the United States.

We have seen some examples of great migrations occurring in history, such as the Oregon Trail in  1840 to 1870. An estimated 400,000 Americans left their homes to find a new life in the American West. Now we are seeing another great migration occurring in the US, as hundreds of thousands of people are leaving large urban cities like New York City and finding places that are more affordable such as Austin, Texas.

According to the National Association of Realtors rates of home sales have risen from July through October, and produced more than 1.2 million more annualized housing sales than expected. It may mean that 400,000 to 500,000 people might have moved. And this is just factoring in homeowners, not the rental market. Furthermore a recent article from the same National Association of Realtors states that 8.9 Million People Relocated Since the Beginning of the Pandemic.

“…2020 will go down in history for a pandemic that changed the world. No one would ever have imagined last year that we would stay home for social distancing in order to help save lives. Specifically, one in three adults substituted some or all of their typical in-person work for telework compared to 1 in 20 adults that worked remotely before the pandemic. With teleworking at record high levels, people also decide to move for various reasons. Some of them seek out bigger houses with bigger yards for their kids to play in and office space for them to work. Others seek more affordable homes in less dense places away from large city centers since they can telework…”

Graph of the COVID Migration during the summer months of 2020
Source: NAR Calculations of USPS data


Key takeaways from the 2020 Migration Report from North American Moving Services

  • People are fleeing California for Texas and Idaho
  • Illinois, New York, and New Jersey are the three states with the most outbound moves.
  • The top five inbound states in 2020 are Idaho, Arizona, Tennessee, South Carolina, and North Carolina, with Tennessee overtaking South Carolina from the 2019 results.
  • Florida, Texas, and Colorado round out the top eight states for inbound moves.
  • Despite pandemic, people continued to move at rates comparable to 2019

Most outbound from the Northeastern States

Northeastern states led by New York and followed by New Jersey and Maryland as the top most northeaster states with the most outbound of people. California placed 4th on the outbound list.

Some of the reasons are obvious why people are moving from the Northeast.

Number 1 reason why people are moving from the northeast is because of the cost of living is too high.

Number 2 reason is the Weather is too cold during the winter

Number 3 reason is that many companies are moving to more warmer and less costly places. Texas, for example, has seen massive job growth since the recession. For example, technology giants such as Tesla, Google, Apple, Dropbox and Oracle all recently built or expanded offices in Austin, as have many others.

Job availability is another factor since many companies are avoiding the region:

Southern States: Sunbelt Migration Trend Continues

States in the south such as Texas, Arizona, and South Carolina including southeast, south, and southwest continue to see their populations grow as more individuals relocate there than leave the region.

Arizona and South Carolina have been in the top five inbound states since 2015. Meanwhile, North Carolina and Tennessee have always been on the list but reached the top five in 2016. While Tennessee usually sat in fifth place or so, it is now in third place for inbound moves.

Texas and Florida have been in the top 10 for the past 5 years. Since then they have kept rising in rank. Florida is now in the lead just ahead of Texas at 6th and 7th.

Why did people move to the South?

  1. Job Growth in the South is rapidly increasing.
  2. Southern states like Texas, Florida, and Tennessee don’t have a state income tax. Arizona and Carolina have low state income taxes relatively.
  3. Warmer weather and milder winters.
  4. More expansive, less congested than other big cities.

Western at a standstill for outbound and inbound

Idaho is seeing a big boom of inbound moves but has been in the top 10 for inbound since 2015, and with the pandemic even more. Along with Colorado it has been in the top 10 or close to it for each of those years. Most years, Idaho has actually come out on top for the most inbound moves, as well as for 2020. Idaho has consistently reached about 65 percentage points for inbound moves.

Colorado slowly has risen and now is at eighth place, right behind Texas.

California has consistently been at the top of the outbound list of Western states. The high cost of living is probably the reason.

Meanwhile Idaho is one of the fastest-growing state in the US and affordable.

Top Metropolitan Migration Area Statistics

Top Destination Cities (Moving To) Top Moving from Cities (Moving From)
 Phoenix,  AZ New York, NY
 Houston, TX Anaheim, CA
 Dallas, TX San Diego, CA
 Atlanta, GA  Chicago, IL
 Denver, CO Riverside, CA
Credit: North American Migration Report of 2020

Phoenix ranks in the number one position for top inbound destination. Phoenix has held on to the number one spot for four out of the last five years. It was only in 2018 that Houston nudged past Phoenix.

Texas, not surprisingly, ranks as one of the top places to move to due zero state income tax, warmer climates, and affordability.

Another recent article People are migrating to these cities amid Covid-19: LinkedIn points out that it’s not just the wealthy that are moving, but also everyday workers.

The top cities that gained new comers between April and October 2020.
1. Austin, Texas
2. Phoenix, Arizona
3. Nashville, Tennessee
4. Tampa, Florida
5. Jacksonville, Florida
6. Charlotte, North Carolina
7. Dallas, Texas
8. Denver, Colorado
9. Las, Vegas Nevada
10. Charleston, South Carolina

Current case study in anthropology in human migration

The pandemic had a socioeconomic impact globally and was seen through a stark migratory pattern, as seen in the US. This migratory event can function as a case study for anthropologic studies in human migratory patterns and behavior during catastrophic events, such as the pandemic. Studying these patterns can help us understand the motives behind the migration and help us understand human psychology further. What do we prioritize most?

Featured Photo Credit: PHOTO: jdross75/Shutterstock

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4 thoughts on “Anthropology: Modern Human Migration During the COVID-19 Pandemic

      1. I miss my home in Palm Springs of 28 years. It was a 1930s Spanish style home with tons of character. I like being out of California! The cost of living is so much better. Also, I’m enjoying the wild scenery of the desert.

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