New York Among Top Cities for Relocators During the Pandemic

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Contrary to popular belief, more people headed to the New York metro region than moved out during the Covid-19 era, according to an analysis of cell-phone data.

A study of migration in the 30 largest U.S. metro areas during the pandemic showed the most popular cities for relocations from March to September were Tampa, Florida; Phoenix — and the New York City area, according to data from Orbital Insight, a California-based company that tracks the movement of goods and people. Miami and Orlando rounded out the top five.

“New York remains desirable for all the same reasons it ever was — the nexus of culture and commerce with a higher density of jobs-per-block than most other places in the world,” said Matt Larriva, vice president of research and data analytics at FCP, a real estate firm that studies Orbital Insight data to gain a deeper understanding of domestic migration.

“We can understand why a younger, unemployed, Midwesterner would be galvanized to a place like NYC or Chicago, with continued higher prospects of jobs, a spike in apartment vacancy, and the allure of an Instagrammable life,” he said.

When New Yorkers did leave the city, they tended to head for Sun Belt regions or just relocated a short distance to Philadelphia, according to Orbital, which uses satellites, drones, balloons and mobile-phone data to pinpoint movements.

Unlike reports from moving companies, Orbital’s data captures temporary relocations such as college students returning home or people fleeing Covid-19 hot spots to stay with relatives.

Capture Effect

Residents of Florida and Texas mostly relocated within their states, Orbital data show.

“If you live in the Sun Belt you basically stayed there,” Larriva said. “Sun Belt has this capture effect on people.”

Californians mostly stayed out West.

San Franciscans who moved chose to relocate to Los Angeles, Phoenix, or San Diego at the highest rates, while Angelinos favored San Diego, Phoenix, or Las Vegas.

(Orbital has received funding in the past from Bloomberg Beta, a venture-capital unit of Bloomberg LP.)

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