Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Urban Exodus? Not So Fast

Did the coronavirus pandemic really cause Americans to flee the cities? This notion has been bandied about by the media for months, but the evidence has been more anecdotal than factual. Now we have the facts, thanks to Stephan D. Whitaker, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. 

Whitaker analyzed data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York/Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. The addresses of borrowers in the Equifax data are updated monthly and are as geographically detailed as census tracts. This kind of detail allowed Whitaker to examine migration into and out of urban neighborhoods, which he defined as census tracts in metropolitan areas with populations of 500,000 or more and a population density of at least 7,000 people per square mile or most of the housing in the tract was built before World War II. He studied migration flows into and out of urban neighborhoods from March through September 2020 and compared them to migration flows during the same months in 2017, 2018 and 2019. 

So, was migration out of urban neighborhoods greater in 2020 than in the earlier years? Yes. Out-migration from urban neighborhoods averaged 276,000 per month from March through September 2020—or 10,000 more out-migrants per month in 2020 than in 2017–19. But that's not the whole story. In fact, it's not even the bigger story. This is the bigger story: the number of people moving into urban neighborhoods decreased more than the the number of people moving out of urban neighborhoods increased. There were an average of 18,000 fewer in-migrants to urban neighborhoods per month in 2020 than in the earlier years compared with the 10,000 per month increase in out-migrants.  

"The estimates presented here strongly suggest that migration flows were unfavorable for urban neighborhoods during 2020," concludes Whitaker. But use of the term "exodus" to describe the change is not accurate, he says. Rather than an exodus out of urban neighborhoods, the bigger migration story of 2020 was the decline in the number of migrants moving into urban neighborhoods. "What is certain is that hundreds of thousands of people who would have moved into an urban neighborhood in a typical year were unwilling or unable to do so in 2020."

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, Did the Covid-19 Pandemic Cause an Urban Exodus?

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