2021 U.S. Migration During a Pandemic


Will McIntosh, Ph.D
Global Head of Research

Mark Fitzgerald, CFA, CAIA
Executive Director, Research

Chenchao Zang
Senior Associate, Research

Jane Zheng
Associate, Research

June 2021

Executive Summary

The COVID-19 pandemic threw the economy for a loop in 2020. The health situation forced lifestyle adjustments on many, as our daily destinations for work and play were closed, or imposed limited capacity requirements. As a result, urban lifestyles became temporarily less attractive, and this was reflected in living preferences of Americans. This paper addresses these themes, though some of the findings may surprise readers:

  • Trends within U.S. markets saw substantial shifts, as urban/central business district (CBD) areas experienced large increases in net outmigration, benefiting the suburbs. Coastal urban areas in particular felt some pain as residents didn’t need to live near closed offices and/or cultural attractions. Suburban demand is reflected not only in multifamily rent trends, but also in a robust housing market, with home prices up 12% YoY according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller index.
  • Despite intra-market shifts, migration activity across markets was relatively flat in 2020 compared to prior years, and net migration trends for most major U.S. markets were remarkably consistent with the two years prior.
  • Q1 2021 migration activity showed a continuation of 2020 trends, though less pronounced. We expect that these trends will revert to pre-pandemic levels, or even reverse in the latter part of 2021 as vaccination rates rise and the economy continues to reopen.