How People are Moving

of one

How People are Moving

Key Takeaways


Available insights into the current demographic composition in rural versus urban populations based on the urban or rural migration trends were provided in the research brief below. Some of the insights focused on migration shifts involving young adults who are technologically savvy. Other migration factors and trends surrounding the advantages of moving into urban areas were also presented.

  • Overall, the U.S. annual migration rates have been steadily decreasing as shown in the chart below:
  • Based on a report from the ERS USDA, the U.S. population in rural areas was around 46.1 million in July 2019, staying at almost the same level as it was in 2010 at 46.2 million.
  • Before the COVID-19 pandemic hits, rural America manifested gradual signs of a recovering economy. However, the progress is still underwhelming compared to the urban locations.
  • The rural areas experienced a slight population increase of 0.02% from 2018 to 2019. However, this is just a minuscule growth after 6 years of continuous population decrease, and significantly below the population growth of 0.6% in urban areas.
  • Rural areas have been adding jobs each year during the last ten years but at lower rates compared to urban areas during the majority of the years, including the former's growth manifestation in 2018 to 2019. During those years, the rural areas grew by 0.6% versus the 1.4% growth in urban territories.
  • In terms of poverty rates, the rural areas saw a decrease from 18.4% in 2013 to around 16.1% in 2018. However, these figures are still greater than the 12.6% poverty rates in urban areas.
  • The arrival of the pandemic further caused economic distress in rural areas. In March and April 2020, the unemployment rates reach record levels that were not observed since the 1930s. In the rural areas, unemployment rates reached 13.6% around the middle of April, one point below the rates in urban areas. The rate dropped to 6% in the middle of September.
  • Based on an analysis done on migration, urban areas are attracting young Americans.
  • Most of these young adults are migrating to "Sun Belt" cities and urban areas in the South and West. These areas are seeing the highest growth of young adult populations.
  • Young adults are mostly influencing the "back-to-the-city" migration pattern for years now.
  • The recent drop in migration trends occurred for both local, within-county migrations (which are primarily motivated by housing and family factors) and longer-distance labor market mobility—though the former's drop was more pronounced. A significant portion of the recent migration declines happened among young adult millennials, with many who were "stuck in place."
  • Mobility rates could probably increase in the 2020–2021 timeframe as a result of COVID-19-related movement away from cities or resettling back with family members. However, such shifts are likely to be temporary, and there is a strong probability that the nation's long-term standstill in territorial mobility during the last decade may resurface when the pandemic passes.
  • Current mobility rates are roughly half those of the 1940s when one in every five Americans migrated annually.
  • The rates have been continuously dropping since the mid-1980s. Local moves have slowed the most, particularly among young individuals, but all age groups have moved less than they did in the past. Interstate migration has also decreased significantly in recent years but appears to have steadied around 2010. See the chart below:
  • Although there is little agreement on why Americans are moving less, three factors appear to be at work: demographic shifts, housing affordability, and labor market changes. As people age, they move less frequently, and as millennials reach the end of their most mobile years, drops mobility rates are to be expected. The housing affordability problem may also be stifling mobility, with high costs preventing residents from moving to unaffordable locations. Finally, the rise in dual-earner homes and distant work (particularly during and potentially following the COVID-19 epidemic) may be lowering mobility, as dual-earner families and remote employees both have lower mobility rates than single-earners.
  • Millennials contributed to the moderate expansion of the 25- to 34-year-old population among younger generations, while the smaller generations that followed them slowed this growth to near zero.
  • There is an expectation that there will be increases in the 55-and-older population in all states, metro regions, and the majority of counties. Even in demographically stagnant places, the baby boomer's "aging in place" will result in population growth for this age group.
  • For the younger generation, the narrative is much different. At a national growth rate approaching zero, migration — in or out— will further dictate whether a location gains or loses young adults. This is mirrored in the Census Bureau's predictions for state changes in under-18 populations from 2010 to 2020, where 31 states, including major areas of the Northeast, Midwest, and deep South, report drops in their youth populations.
  • In comparison, 19 states and Washington, D.C. have seen increases in the number of young people, owing mostly to the in-migration of youth and families with children. While the country as a whole is experiencing growing age dependency (a higher ratio of senior retirees to working young adults), some areas may be better equipped to grow their future young labor workforce.
  • Meanwhile, the City Observatory report mentioned that the nation's urban future as per the most recent census data demonstrates that, far from reversing, the migration of brilliant young adults to urban areas is not only proceeding, but rapidly rising. Since 2010, the proportion of 25- to 34-year-olds with a college degree or higher who live in densely populated urban regions has risen in all of the country's major metro areas.
  • In the middle of a pandemic, panicky projections abound that America's urbanism has come to an end.
  • However, according to Zillow's most recent data on home search activity in April 2020, urban searches is steadily rising while the market share of suburban searches is declining.
  • Separate data analysis from shows a rise in search queries in New York City, prompting their analysts to come to a conclusion that the epidemic is not frightening tenants away from the city.
  • This is yet another obituary for the country's urban rebirth that is premature and overstated. There was a prevailing belief before those technological advancements would eliminate the necessity for urbanization, as the internet would "flatten" the planet.
  • There was also an assumption before that the prevailing fear of terrorism due to the 9/11 tragedy would drive people to migrate out of urban areas.
  • The most accurate crystal ball of what is going to unfold in the coming years is the significant trends that have been seen lately. The last decade's happenings demonstrate a solid and sustained demand for city living, as well as the flow and congregation of bright employees into the nation's urban areas.
  • The "young and restless" those aged 25 to 34 who possess at least a four-year degree — are mainly concentrated in densely populated areas of major urban centers.
  • Their population has risen by 32% since 2010, reaching 1.3 million. This is a common trend that is occurring in every major urban region.
  • Young Americans are also driving city expansion, with 50% of the increase in population in close-in areas attributable to them.
  • Highly educated young individuals are 2.5 times more likely to dwell in densely populated areas than the general population.
  • As opposed to the typical observation in press reports that young Americans are losing interest in city living, the City Observatory report has discovered that well-educated individuals are disproportionately congregating in the most central urban communities and that their population has actually rapidly grown in those neighborhoods through 2018, compared to previous periods. In 40 of the 52 largest urban regions, the rate of increase of well-educated young adults in close-in neighborhoods has accelerated in the last six years compared to the preceding decade.
  • The concentration of highly skilled individuals in urban areas, and within cities, and in highly populated urban areas is a critical element of the increasingly knowledge-based urban economy that is the primary engine of US economic expansion. Two-thirds of Americans aged 25 to 34 with a four-year degree reside in one of the country's 52 major metro regions.
  • The cities' economic progress is contingent upon their capability to attract and retain skilled young workers. There is mounting evidence that highly productive and high-paying firms are gravitating toward metropolitan areas to capitalize on the concentration of talent.
  • Due to the fact that innovative and productive enterprises are the bedrock of any successful regional or national economy, creating an urban setting that entices and retains these bright individuals is a critical component of any local economic progress approach.
  • A more serious implication of reduced immigration would be a stagnant youth population. Between 2020 and 2035, the Census Bureau projects that the nation's under-18 population will expand by 4%. However, under its low immigration estimate, the number of the under-18 group would stagnate. In all scenarios, the over-65 population would increase by at least 38%.
  • To ensure a more rapid population increase for young adults, the solution is to triple present immigration levels. By doing this the youth population growth is expected to reach 9% in the next 15 years.
  • Based on the most recent available data, the share of young Americans who are college graduates has risen in each community type as shown below.
  • Cities are places of possibility. One of the primary ways cities enhance efficiency is through robust labor markets that enable employees to be optimally matched to professions that make the best use of their talents and abilities. Cities are areas where employees look for work, learn skills, and develop personal and professional networks.
  • The influx of talented young employees into densely populated urban regions is assisting in redevelopment. As previously stated, college-educated 25- to 34-year-olds have accounted for the lion's share of net new dwellers in close-in communities since 2010.
  • To some, new dwellers with a high level of education are a symptom of gentrification and potential displacement. However, recent research indicates that an inflow of new residents rarely results in displacement and that long-term dwellers often benefit. Furthermore, whether new inhabitants displace existing residents is heavily based on whether housing construction can be allowed in densely populated urban regions. Since 2010, these communities have added around 7% more residents, and some of this growth might be accommodated by making better use of the current housing stocks.
  • Attracting new and well-educated inhabitants can provide an economic boost to metropolitan regions that have undergone decades of disinvestment and population drops.
  • Increased spending on "groceries, restaurants and bars," as well as neighborhood stores and service com, can help encourage the creation of new local positions, the majority of which are likely to be at skill levels accessible to a broad variety of neighborhood people.
  • According to Jonathan Rothwell of the Brookings Institution, a college graduate shells out a quarter of a million dollars more on local products and services over the course of an adult career than someone with only a high school diploma. This increased expenditure directly results in an increase in jobs and opportunities in local urban communities.

Research Strategy

To obtain insights into the current demographic composition in rural versus urban populations based on the urban/rural migration trends that have been taking place over time, we leveraged the most reputable sources in the public domain including urban and rural reports (City Reporter, USDA ERS, etc.), surveys (Pew Research, BLS, Census), media publications (Forbes, CNBC, etc.), and other similar sources. Based on this search approach, we were able to find most of the insights on this topic. We also included available key indicators that focus mostly on income, education, and interests. We included some slightly outdated data points and sources to show the migration trends happening over time.

Did this report spark your curiosity?