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Where Americans moved over the last decade

Today’s post is perhaps a good follow-up to yesterday’s post about housing supply in Ontario. Below are a few charts taken from a recent article by Wendell Cox looking at net domestic migration across the US. The takeaway here is that the shift from larger cities to smaller cities seems to be accelerating, following a trend that started before COVID.

The data in these charts is organized according to population and by Core Based Statistical Areas (CBSAs). At the bottom are America’s two megacities: New York and Los Angeles. Both have metro areas that exceed 10 million people. As you can, these two city regions have been losing the most people, both in terms of total humans and on a percentage basis. The goldilocks sweet spot seems to be cities in the 500k to 1 million range.

But the most telling figure is probably this one here:

This chart adds up all major metropolitan areas with a population greater than 1 million, and then shows net migration over the last decade. Here you can see when this trend started (around 2016) and how it has been accelerating. In this case, it does appear that COVID added some fuel to the fire. But the question remains: Why is this longer-term trend even happening?

Is it a short-term phenomenon? Is it because once a city reaches a certain size it simply becomes more annoying to live in it and people would prefer to live elsewhere? Or is it more about overall affordability? That is, if we could figure out how to deliver more affordable housing in our cities, could we stymie the bleeding toward smaller and more affordable ones?

I don’t know the answers to the questions. But they have been widely debated and I still think they’re interesting ones. If all things were equal (or closer to equal), how and where would most people choose to live? Put differently, how much of this is some sort of natural market outcome and how much of it is a direct result of our actions (or inactions)?

1 Comment so far

  1. I make ~200k a year and I cannot afford living in anywhere close to ~900sf in 1 or 2miles radius walking distance from Central Park. Otherwise I totally would. Even in Seattle, I found myself checked out of the home ownership market and currently renting in Redmond, WA 20mins East of Seattle (by Microsoft HQ) and only got a good rental deal because it was during Covid


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