New Data Shows Just How Much Americans Moved Temporarily During Covid

So far, permanent moves are relatively flat. But short-term moves did spike in March and April, with people mostly leaving big cities.

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The anecdotal evidence of temporary moves during the coronavirus pandemic has been building: tourist towns overrun with newcomers, elite Manhattan neighborhoods emptied by those who left for vacation houses, young people across the U.S. living with their parents.
Now new data from the U.S. Postal Service puts a figure behind the people who may have made short-term moves: Temporary moves were up 27% between February and July 2020 in the U.S. compared to the same period last year. The data, obtained and analyzed by moving tools and resources company MYMOVE, also shows that permanent changes of address increased by just 1.9% year over year.
Together, these figures likely represent the most comprehensive snapshot yet of migration patterns during coronavirus — capturing more than 15 million moves. And they provide some insight into the departures and destinations for some of these Americans.
Every year, millions of Americans file a change of home address with USPS to get their mail forwarded when they won’t be living in their home. This change can be either temporary — six months or less — or permanent. As the month-by-month chart below shows, temporary moves were higher than 2019 in every month between March and July, but spiked most dramatically in March as the pandemic hit in the U.S. and stay-at-home orders began.
More Temporary Moves
The number of temporary change of address requests peaked during Covid
Source: MYMOVE analysis of USPS data
MYMOVE also provided some but not all data on where people moved from and to. Among temporary and permanent movers combined, the places that saw the greatest net loss in movers were big cities, and the places that saw the greatest net gains were smaller and midsized towns and cities, several of which are in Texas.
A major caveat on this data is that it is not broken out between temporary and permanent moves, and several of the cities on these lists likely reflect the migrations of temporary movers. East Hampton, for example, became a popular destination for wealthy city-dwellers with access to vacation homes.
As Pew analyst D’Vera Cohn told MYMOVE for their analysis, “Among those who moved due to the virus, 13% [of respondents] told us they moved to a second home or vacation home, many of which probably are outside of cities,” according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.
Net Gains
Cities that gained the most movers between February and July 2020
Source: MYMOVE analysis of USPS data
Note: Net losses obtained by subtracting the number of moves in from the number of moves out, both temporary and permanent
Other cities on the list could represent more permanent moves to primary residences. Frisco, Texas, for example, a midsized city on the edge of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, is among the communities that have seen jumps in home sales. Amy Herzog, a listing agent with Century 21 in Frisco, says she’s mostly selling to families who are interested in moving to the “country.”
“I’ve never had so many clients in my life.” said Herzog. “Internet’s the big factor, that’s the question I get: Make sure they have good internet.”
Among those cities that saw more people move out than move in, Manhattan and Brooklyn together saw the greatest number of movers by far. Most of the places on this list were indeed America’s largest cities, but some midsized Florida locations such as Naples and Fort Myers also saw net losses.
Net Losses
Cities that lost the most movers between February and July 2020
Source: MYMOVE analysis of USPS data
Note: Net losses obtained by subtracting the number of moves in from the number of moves out, both temporary and permanent
Because the data represent temporary and permanent moves together, it’s difficult to draw too many conclusions, as the two phenomena represent distinct trends that could have very different implications for cities. It’s not yet clear how much temporary moves could affect the long-term fates of cities, or how many total moves will turn out to be permanent.
One big question has been whether people are “fleeing” cities on a more permanent basis. As CityLab has previously reported, there has not been clear evidence — yet — to support a pattern of people permanently moving nationwide. But among the people who are making permanent moves, the patterns so far seem to be diverse, and vary by location.
Data from national moving company United Van Lines found that among people who used its moving service, some of the top destinations for those leaving New York City and San Francisco were other big cities, including Seattle, Austin and Atlanta. While these figures are not comprehensive enough to show any widespread migration patterns, they do suggest that people leaving these cities may be going to a variety of destinations — including other big metropolitan areas.
The numbers of people moving out of large cities in the USPS data may raise some new cause for concern among cities, even though many of those moves may turn out to be temporary. But one caveat in MYMOVE’s analysis was that these moving patterns largely follow — and in some cases accelerate — pre-pandemic trends.
“When you take a look at 2020’s 10 most moved-out-of cities and compare them to the previous year, you see that the list remains relatively consistent. Eight of the 10 cities make both lists,” wrote MYMOVE editor Jessa O’Connor, who spearheaded the study. The difference, she said, is that the numbers of people leaving these cities increased — dramatically in the case of Manhattan, which lost almost six times the number of movers in 2020 as in 2019. This could mean, for example, that some people who were already planning to move to the suburbs expedited their plans.
The USPS figures on nationwide permanent moves also add more detail to the story. Data previously reported by CityLab from several national moving companies suggested that permanent moves actually decreased year over year during the height of shelter-in-place orders. Moving company Hire a Helper reported that people requesting their moving services dropped in all U.S. states between March 11 and June 30. The change of address filings, while still likely excluding or miscategorizing some moves, is a far more comprehensive dataset, and it also looks at a longer period of time. As the the chart below shows, overall moves did decrease during the similar period, especially in May and June, but started to increase again in July.
Permanent Moves Slowed Down Slightly
The number of permanent changes of address spiked in March, then decreased slightly in May and June
Source: MYMOVE analysis of USPS data
O’Connor and her team plan on revisiting the data in the coming months to see how many of those temporary moves might become permanent, or vise versa.

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