The COVID-19 pandemic began in the year 2000. Americans fled California and New York for safety and better health.
The Census Bureau has released new data showing that between July 2020 to June 2021, 18 states plus Washington, D.C. lost their population. The losses suffered by many states are small in comparison to those of New York City and California. These 12 months saw the states lose 319,000 residents and 260,000 respectively. After losing approximately 113,000 residents, Illinois came in third, a state that has suffered from population declines for many years.
However, when viewed as a percentage, Washington, D.C. took the biggest hit. It lost over 3.4 percent in 12 months.
Texas, on the other hand, saw the addition of approximately 310,000 residents in the same period. Arizona (98,000), Florida (2211,000), North Carolina (93,000), and Arizona (98,000) all experienced significant in-migration.
The pandemic saw fewer people move than usual during a typical year. A different set of Census Bureau data was released a few months back. It showed that moves fell to the lowest level in at least 70 year in the twelve months from April 2020 to March 2021. This only makes some aspects of migration even more apparent. Although there were fewer people moving overall, New York City and California both saw an increase in migration between July 2020 and June 2021.
The pandemic seemed to have intensified migration trends already in progress, as it had done elsewhere. California and New York showed “substantially greater losses in 2020-21 compared to the preceding two years,” according William H. Frey of the Brookings Institution, who is a senior fellow.
New York’s population has been declining for many years. California’s population also declined after over a decade of rapid growth. California’s congressional delegation will shrink because the rest of America grew more quickly than California.
Many factors can influence a person’s decision to relocate from one area to the next. These decisions are more dependent on individual factors than economic or political issues. It is important to not assign too much significance to figures relating migration. For example, partisans might claim that Americans are shifting from red to blue states. This may even be true in some cases. However, it overlooks the fact that personal decision-making is based upon many factors, some of them not politically motivated.
States are not monoliths—someone moving to the booming West Texas city of Midland is probably doing so for a different reason than someone moving to also-booming Austin—and a successful state is capable of attracting more than one type of person. In fact, states that are successful grow despite their political stereotypes and not because of them.
These important caveats aside, it is difficult to examine the Census Bureau’s new data and not make some generalizations about why California, New York, and to a lesser extent D.C., were so remarkable outliers in the last year.
Pandemic policy is a standard example. New York did not lift the capacity restrictions for businesses until May this year, well after similar rules had been abolished elsewhere. Los Angeles economic restrictions often had little meaning and were especially harsh for small businesses. School closures, where were concentrated in big cities and blue states—places that have, not surprisingly, now seen a corresponding drop in enrollments—made life more difficult for parents and children. People say that they are moving because of financial pressure. Pandemic-era policies were ripe to create new financial problems for large swathes of Americans.
It’s possible that frustrations over school closures and pandemic rules are also reflected in Census data. Wendell Cox of a St. Louis-based consulting company, who is an expert in population and policy, points out that D.C. has lost around 3.3 percent of its residents after the previous decade of significant annual population increases. Then, he looks at the states gaining population—and not just the biggest ones.
West Virginia was within reach of remote workers spending just a few hours per month at-site. It saw net domestic migration in excess of its national average IncreaseCox reports that the average for its past decade was minus 4,600, which has dropped to 2,300.” Neue GeographieA blog on urban policy and demographics. “Delaware was similarly near to Washington as Philadelphia and saw its net domestic migration increase rise to 12,000 from the previous decade’s average of + 5,000.
West Virginia and Delaware share some other features with the big population-gaining states like Texas, Florida, and Arizona—namely, low taxes and relatively cheap land (with some exceptions, of course).
Remote work, or part-time remote working, is here to stay. States like West Virginia, Delaware, and others stand to benefit from the East Coast’s post-pandemic cleanup. The geography of many states close together means that there will be more competition. People may choose to live in their own suburbs, and avoid the high costs of living, high taxes, and long commutes to work if they only need to visit the office one week.
Most people will remain. Even though Washington lost an astonishing percentage of its residents last year, 96% of Washingtonians remain Washingtonians. New York City is still the most important economic hub in the world. California has nearly unlimited natural resources.
The fact that the majority of Americans moved during the pandemic is a sign to policymakers regarding what’s going on at the margins. There is competition among the states, so the end of the pandemic restrictions will not stop these trends.
Some states will not like the places workers live in a world that empowers them to choose where and when they want to.