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Report: Where Americans Are Moving During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Key Findings

  • 15% of all moves between January and June 2020 were forced by the pandemic
  • 37% of people moving due to COVID moved because they couldn't afford to live where they were living
  • San Francisco, CA and New York, NY had 80% more people leave than move in
  • Scottsdale, AZ was top city by net moves, 68% more people moving in versus out
  • Top destination state by the number of overall move-ins was Florida
  • Nebraska, a state without a statewide stay-at-home order, was the only place where more people moved during the pandemic (+2%)
  • Idaho saw 194% more people moving into the state than out

What Moving During COVID Looked Like

Despite the overall uncertainty, thousands of Americans moved during the COVID pandemic. Where were people most likely to move? Which places were they most likely to leave behind?

At the state level, it's the states with a higher population and a higher rate of COVID spread that saw the biggest net losses of moves. Since the pandemic was declared, ≈64% more people left New York and California than moved in.

Illinois, DC, New Jersey, Connecticut were also among states where departures outnumbered arrivals by 50% or more.

Where Were People Escaping the Pandemic?

Nine states had a net positive in terms of people moving in. Idaho had almost three times as many people move in than out, while New Mexico (+44%), Delaware (+30%), and South Carolina (+26%) all had significantly more people moving into these states than away from them.

Looking at cities, it becomes quite apparent that people were fleeing big urban centers, as San Francisco and New York City had 80% more people move out than in. Los Angeles saw 70% more people leave it behind, while Miami, FL—despite registering more moves than at the same time last year—had 53% more people leave it than move into it.

Further analysis of moves out of San Francisco and New York suggests that most people who left these two major cities didn't go very far.

According to our data, as many as 78% of New Yorkers remained in the Tri-state area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, while all those who left San Francisco moved to other cities within California.

Potentially Forced Moving

To what extent were people's moves affected or even forced by the pandemic? We asked 1,350 people who moved between January and June 2020 to find out.

Firstly, as many as 15% of Americans who moved in the first six months of 2020 said they did so because of the COVID pandemic.

Of those people, 37% moved because they couldn't afford their housing due to loss of job and/or income, while 33% decided to shelter-in-place with their families.

Safety was also a serious concern, as 24% moved because they didn't feel safe where they normally live and 23% moved specifically to an area with fewer cases of the coronavirus.

Interestingly enough, 6% of those forced to move by COVID took advantage of the housing market to buy or sell their home.

Affected by workplace lockdowns, 5% of people moving because of the pandemic moved somewhere specifically to be able to work from their new home.

It's not all doom and gloom, however, as an 85% majority of moves weren't forced by COVID. Like in the times of "the old normal", people moved to new and better homes, moved for their new jobs, or chose to relocate due to retirement.

States With the Earliest Stay-At-Home Orders Practiced Caution

Compared to the same period in 2019 (March 11 - June 30), many states saw a decline in moves since the pandemic started. That said, states in the Northeast and in the North were generally more affected than states in the sunbelt.

While New Hampshire saw its number of moves drop by two-thirds (66%), the number of moves in Massachusetts, Oregon, and Minnesota fell by more than 50%.

Other states where the demand for moving services reduced were on the eastern seaboard, with Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey all recording at least a 40% drop in the number of moves since the start of the pandemic.

Nebraska—one of the few states without a statewide "stay at home" order in place—was the only state with a reliable number of moves. Nebraska saw more moves (+1.8%) compared to the same period in 2019. Read more on where people were moving in 2019.

Two other states without such an order were Utah and Oklahoma, where drop-off in the number of people moving was also relatively moderate, compared to most other states.

Hard Hit Cities Saw Increased Moving Numbers

At the city level, Pittsburgh, PA and Portland, OR saw the number of moves drop off by more than 50% since March 11th, compared to the same period in 2019. People in some of the biggest cities in the country tended to stay put in Chicago, Atlanta, and San Francisco, which were all down 25% or more.

However, five cities surpassed their level of moving activity from last year, despite the rampant COVID pandemic, three of which were in Arizona. Phoenix (+34%). Chandler (+13%), and Mesa (+7%) all recorded growth in the number of moves. Curiously, so did Miami in Florida, where 8% more people moved during the pandemic, compared to the same time in 2019.

The Moves We Didn't Catch

While HireAHelper covers a statistically significant portion of the moving population, there are other important considerations to denote.

Earlier this month, a study by Pew Research found that 3% of Americans moved and a further 6% had someone move in with them - all due to the coronavirus pandemic. Considering just under 10% of Americans moved in the whole of 2019, 9% moving since the start of the pandemic would suggest a huge spike in moving activity.

One reason why these moves aren't easy to catch is that they might be temporary and therefore smaller in size, not needing the support of a moving company.

As evidenced by various media articles, many people made such moves during the pandemic. Affluent families left big cities for their second homes, regular city dwellers were looking for temporary suburban rentals, while many college students moved back home due to suspension of teaching at most colleges.

Another reason why this isn't necessarily mirrored in our data could be that these moves were completed via other high-expense Full Service or DIY methods. With stay-at-home orders in place in most states, it's likely people chose to carry out their moves either completely on their own or through a no-contact method.

Sources & Methodology

HireAHelper's COVID Moving Study analyzed Hybrid moving data in the US, booked through our online platform in 2020. Five states: Alaska, Hawaii, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming were excluded due to a lack of sufficiently representative move data.

The start of the COVID-19 pandemic was taken from its official declaration as a pandemic on March 11th, 2020. Year-on-year comparisons of moving activity between 2020 and 2019 covered the period of March 11th to June 30th.

Unless otherwise stated, all percentages, breakdowns, and summary statistics were derived from the data captured by HireAHelper.com. Additional data sources include PEW Research and a HireAHelper user survey carried out in July 2020.

Net gains or losses in people moving in/out for both states and cities were calculated as the ratio of:

  • # of people moving into the state or city, to
  • the # of people moving out of the state or city
  • expressed as a percentage (%)

Research: VK

Illustration: Chelsea Beck

Press Queries: Jaclyn Lambert