How Might Changes in Internal Migration Trends Reshape Communities Across the U.S. in 2021?

Over the past forty years, internal migration in the United States has declined to the lowest level since records began. However, a perfect storm is developing that might reshape communities across the country in 2021 - with both positive and negative implications for local governments.

In 1980, the United States had one of the highest internal migration rates in the world. At the time, around 17% of the population moved each year for work or to enjoy a better lifestyle. Since then, internal migration rates have steadily declined to the current level of around 10%. The decline is attributed to the growth of two-earner households making it harder for both earners to find new jobs in new areas, and the high cost of borrowing during the 1980s and 1990s.

However, the switch to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic – with many large employers suggesting remote working may become a permanent option – has provided an opportunity for employees to move away from high-cost urban areas to more affordable locations where they can also enjoy a better lifestyle. Furthermore, this opportunity comes at a time when interest rates are at an all-time low, and when 39% of urban dwellers have indicated they are considering moving to a less crowded environment to reduce the risk of being exposed to the COVID-19 virus.

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Other factors contributing to a perfect storm for internal migration include an “explosion of interest” in home schooling and a desire to move away from areas of civil unrest – both factors motivated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In August, the National Home Schooling Association reported receiving up to 3,400 enquiries per day; while in June – following a 186% increase in urban disturbances – the United States was rated as a “high risk” country in the Verisk Maplecroft Civil Unrest Index. It is noticeable that the index was compiled prior to the latest protests against COVID-19 restrictions.

Data Suggests the Perfect Storm has Already Started

house for saleWhereas there has always been an underlying “exodus to the 'burbs”, there is evidence to suggest the exodus is developing into an “urban flight”. Last month the National Association of Realtors reported the highest level of existing home sales since December 2006, driven by a “pandemic-fueled migration to suburbs and low-density areas”. Similarly Mortgage News Daily reported a 10.6% increase in single-family constructions in “small metro suburbs” in 2020 Q2, compared to a 18% decrease in new build constructions in “large metro core areas” over the same quarter last year.

The reversing trend in internal migration has not been overlooked by the mainstream media either. In September, CNN reported that completed sales contracts for condos and co-ops in Manhattan fell nearly 60% in July, while contracts for single-family homes outside New York City skyrocketed. CNN also noted that – according to moving services provider HireAHelper – 80% more people moved out of New York than moved in during March and June, and that similar shifts have been identified in Boston, Dallas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

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The fledgling perfect storm is not only having an impact on the residential real estate market. In its “2021 Emerging Trends in Real Estate” report, PwC warns investors that remote working will change the outlook for commercial real estate. The report's authors predict that, while some businesses will temporarily expand office space to comply with social distancing requirements, many will see remote working as an opportunity to reduce their footprint and save costs. A subsequent analysis by Reuters projected a 15% decrease in demand for office space once the pandemic is contained.

The Implications of Internal Migration Trends for Local Governments

The implications of internal migration trends for local governments depend on whether the trend is positive (the local population grows) or negative. For jurisdictions with growing populations, the most common outcome is regional economic growth. While this is good news in terms of direct and indirect tax revenues, it also creates problems in terms of planning for a growing population and allocating resources. For jurisdictions with declining populations, the same planning and resource allocation problems exist, only there is less revenue to pay for the resources.

One area which can be particularly affected by growing populations is public safety. As populations increase in size, scalable mass notification systems need to be put in place to alert citizens to the risk of danger, to provide advice for businesses on how to prepare for and respond to adverse events, and to help communities recover quicker. It may also be necessary to digitalize vulnerable needs registries to better serve larger aging populations, and to better support emergency services personnel by implementing systems such as the Smart911 safety profile system.

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For public safety officers in jurisdictions with reducing populations, it can also be worthwhile considering these solutions. Although a reducing population means there are fewer people to protect, it also means there is less income available to provide the resources required to protect communities. With comprehensive mass communication and collaboration solutions, public safety officers are able to do more with less, regardless of the how trends in internal migration change and how they reshape communities across the U.S. in 2021 and beyond.  

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Tara Gibson
Tara Gibson

Tara is a Marketing Coordinator on the Rave Mobile Safety marketing team. She loves writing about all things K-12, State & Local, Higher Ed, Corporate, and Healthcare, and manages the Rave social media channels. When she's not working, she's taking care of her smiley, shoe eating, Instagram-famous fur baby, Enzo!

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