Apr 30, 2020 - Economy

Coronavirus may prompt migration out of American cities

A man crosses an empty street in San Fransisco amid the coronavirus outbreak in April 2020

A man crosses an empty street amid the coronavirus outbreak in San Francisco. Photo: Liu Guanguan/China News Service via Getty Images.

Nearly one-third of Americans are considering moving to a less densely populated area because of the novel coronavirus outbreak, according to a Harris Poll survey released Thursday.

The big picture: "Space now means something more than square feet," Harris Poll CEO John Gerzema said. "Already beset by high rents and clogged streets, the virus is now forcing urbanites to consider social distancing as a lifestyle."

By the numbers: 39% of urban dwellers said the COVID-19 crisis has prompted them to consider leaving for a less crowded place, according to the survey of 2,050 U.S. adults from April 25-27,

  • 18- to-34-year-olds were more likely than other age groups to say they're considering a move.
  • Urban residents (43%) were more likely than suburban (26%) and rural (21%) residents to report having recently browsed real estate websites for homes or apartments to rent or buy, per the survey.
  • Yes, but: Alarm over coronavirus is high in rural areas, too — 77% of rural residents reported they are very or somewhat concerned about themselves or a loved one being exposed to COVID-19.

Between the lines: It's not yet clear how the pandemic will reshape cities in the long run, but many experts say it will accelerate trends that were already underway before the coronavirus outbreak.

  • City growth slows: After people flocked to big cities in the early 2010s, major metro areas with populations of more than 1 million have seen growth slowdowns and even losses over the past four years, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data by the Brookings Institution's William Frey.
  • Remote work normalized: Remote work is likely to become a more permanent reality, allowing staff more flexibility to live further away from their company's headquarters — hence, further away from major cities.
  • Spreading out: Suburbs had already become more attractive to millennials before the pandemic. Demographers and realtors tell HousingWire that the crisis is a "tipping point" for people already wanting more space or a different quality of life outside urban cores.

The other side: People tend to stay put in an economic downturn, so a recession could discourage people from picking up and moving, even if they've thought about it.

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