Nearly every exiled New Yorker is asking the same questions: Will we go back? If so, when? And after we return, will it be the same? Many people left NYC during the pandemic: Some went to their hometowns, others tried out uncharted parts of the country. Outside of the city, New Yorkers are a target for concerned citizens: “What was it like?” or “Is it different?” or “Are you going back?”
Well, most of us haven’t decided. But it’s hard to ignore the reasons why we left, which were exacerbated by COVID-19.
New York took the prize for having the most significant exodus, but it’s not the only metropolis losing occupants. Big cities from coast to coast felt the loss. According to USPS data, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles weren’t far behind New York: Each lost around 30,000 residents in 2020. Compared to 2019, the annual number of movers in Chicago and Los Angeles doubled; San Francisco’s number tripled.
The New York Post reported that city residents filed 295,103 change of address requests from March 1 through Oct. 31 of 2020. And this doesn’t even cover the people who left without informing the post office.
Why the mass exodus? Let’s start with the obvious. New York’s restrictions and lockdowns have been more severe than most. It’s challenging to live there, much less run a business. And, of course, many ex-pats have gotten used to suburban or rural living. We breathe fresh air, drive on smooth roads and now live closer to our families and friends.
Probably the most apparent difference is the cost of living. New York is almost comically more expensive than most other places. We knew that going in, and we got used to it, qualifying the cost by saying, “It’s New York City.” Being home now, we’ve realized the extent to which we’ve been getting gouged. Even making six figures in New York isn’t enough to fuel what most would dub a middle-class lifestyle.
The Manhattan Institute conducted a survey of six-figure earners and found that 38 percent said they thought the city was heading in the wrong direction, and only 38 percent rated the quality of life as good or excellent. Fifty-three percent said they were very concerned about sending their kids back to school.
We briefly mentioned taxes, but they deserve their own tribute. Many New Yorkers noticed more cash in their pockets once they abandoned the city. In Florida, there is no income tax; in Georgia, the tax is quite low.
But let’s assume the lower cost of living, lower taxes and slower lifestyle vanish. There’s another elephant in the room: safety. Many New Yorkers who stayed over the summer of 2020 noticed that the city’s character changed dramatically, specifically in Manhattan.
The City reported 1,480 shootings in December 2020, almost double the 748 logged during the same period last year. The city finished the year with a 14-year high in that category of violence. Also, murders were up 40 percent from 2019.
According to the Bowery Mission, nearly one in every 106 New Yorkers is homeless, and every night, about 4,000 people sleep in public places.
Manhattan restaurateur Sanjay Laforest told Follow the Profit that hotels that once housed glamorous world travelers now hold homeless people, changing the environment on once luxurious city blocks.
Midtown is not clean, safe or attractive. Many New Yorkers try to avoid it as much as possible. A big question to ask is whether we can even afford to go back. A lot of our business moved to Florida and will never go back to New York. Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Barclay and more titans created headquarters in other corners of the country.
Remote work has changed the way we do business, eliminating the need to be in a hub like NYC. At least San Francisco and Los Angeles have good weather; we all know that’s not the Big Apple’s main attraction.
We both would love to go back to New York at some point. It’s a magical and challenging kind of place. As Sinatra once sang: If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. But feelings aside, we feel a lot of trepidation from corporate and personal standpoints.
Maybe something will change. Several big companies have doubled down on New York and are expanding their footprint. Laforest said he’d worked too hard to abandon his Manhattan restaurants now. As members of the Millennial generation and Gen Z, we are at the peak of our earnings potential. So, unless New York makes sense for us economically, we’ll probably stay in low-tax states where the cost of living, the ease of doing business and the quality of life are much better.
New York is a place that will forever remain in our hearts. But in the meantime, we’re digging new roots in Florida and Georgia.
David Grasso is the host of the Follow the Profit Podcast, where he shares simple ideas for financial success and lessons learned the hard way. He is also the CEO of Bold TV, Inc, a non-profit media company dedicated to entrepreneurship and cultural empowerment. Hannah Buczek is the managing editor and journalist for Bold TV. She also reports and edits for GenBiz, a non-profit media brand focused on promoting financial freedom.