People have stopped fleeing cities and are starting to stay put, Census data shows

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The mass exodus out of cities and into suburban and rural communities with more open space during the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be slowing down. 

Census Bureau data released Thursday finds that the overall patterns of population growth and decline are starting to return to pre-pandemic levels, largely thanks to more immigrants arriving in major metropolitan areas, as well as fewer people dying, and more babies being born. 

Take New York City, for example. The Big Apple is America’s most populated metro area with an estimated 8.5 million people in 2021 — and that was down from 8.8 million in April 2020. Manhattan, alone (one of the city’s five boroughs) lost 98,505 people during the first year of the pandemic, largely due to people moving out of the city. But its population grew by 17,472 in the past year, the Census data shows. 

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Or Dallas County in Dallas, Texas, which lost 22,000 people between 2020 and 2021, gained 13,000 people between 2021 and 2022 — the fastest gain that the county has seen since 2017, the Census Bureau noted. San Francisco also saw the number of people moving out slow down between 2021 and 2022 compared to the year before. 

Meanwhile, the South and West have enjoyed some of the greatest upticks in domestic migration, with all 10 of the fastest-growing counties being found in those areas. Indeed, one-half of the 10 fastest-growing counties were in Texas, while the rest were in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. 

What’s more, cities with large colleges and universities are also seeing population growth again as more students return to campuses. Whitman County, Washington, which is home to Washington State University, for example, saw its population drop by 9.6% between 2020 and 2021. But it then rebounded to grow by 10.1% last year. In fact, Whitman Country was the fastest-growing county between 2021 and 2022, period. 

To be sure, the suburbs of big cities, and small to medium-size metropolitan areas, are still claiming most of the country’s growth, as The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford University who studies work-from-home patterns, described this as a “doughnut effect” to the Journal. In other words, city centers are seeing the growth of suburban rings around them following the previous migration out of downtown areas and city centers. “Tech workers, bankers and managers in big cities are finding they are now only going into work three days a week and are happy to have an extra 20- or 30-minute commute for more space,” he explained. 

But the mass migration from metropolitan areas seems to have slowed. And there could be other factors at play. For instance, first-time homebuyers are getting priced out of the housing market by high mortgage rates and home prices (although the latest data from Freddie Mac on Thursday showed some relief), which could keep current city dwellers hunkering down in their apartments while they look for the perfect listing. Or as more employers demand that remote workers come back to the office — such as tech companies like Amazon, Snap and Apple — the appeal of shorter commutes within cities could keep residents from moving on. 

More on MarketWatch:

‘We’ve become a renting nation’: Landlords benefit from high house prices, but millions of renters find themselves trapped

Who is selling their homes in this uncertain housing market? The same people who are buying houses more than anyone else.

‘Baby boomers have the upper hand in the home-buying market’: First-time buyers, meanwhile, struggle to get on property ladder

Read the full article here

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