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Are cities really on the edge of a mass exodus?

September 1, 2020, 12:00 AM UTC

An article titled “NYC is Dead Forever… Here’s Why” written by a New Yorker fleeing to Florida set off an internet storm this month. The piece, which argues the pandemic has forever made cities like New York less desirable, got a ton of pushback. Even Jerry Seinfeld weighed in, writing a rebuttal in the New York Times this week

But what does the data say? Are Americans about to rent U-Hauls in masses? Or is the pandemic just accelerating the departures of people that would have moved anyway in a year or two? To find out, Fortune and SurveyMonkey teamed up to poll 2,478 U.S. adults between August 17 and 18.

We found that 8% of U.S. adults are more likely to move out of their city or county as a result of the pandemic. That could amount to tens of millions of Americans moving as a result of the pandemic.

And it looks like cities will get hit hardest: The Fortune-SurveyMonkey poll finds Americans living in urban areas are twice as likely to say they’ll move out as a result of the pandemic (11%), compared to Americans living in rural areas (5%).

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Simply put: That wave of migration out—coupled with delayed moves into cities—could set some cities back years or decades.

New York City already announced last week it would lay off 400 emergency medical service employees as it works to fill budget holes created from plummeting sales and hotel tax revenues. And if these moves come to fruition and aren’t replaced by people moving in, it could mean billions lost in state and local income tax revenues. That would set up deeper cuts in city services, or even widespread municipal bankruptcies.

Parents and remote workers in search of more space aren’t the only ones who would drive this migration wave. Jobless Americans are almost twice as likely to say they’d consider moving as a result of the pandemic (17%) compared to employed Americans (8%).

And 18 to 24 year olds are the age group most likely to be considering a move right now. (That’s not too surprising when considering most out-of-state moves occur before a person turns age 35, according to Fortune‘s review of U.S. Census Bureau data).

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To retain their future workforce and leaders, employers might want to consider allowing more employees to permanently work remotely. Or at least allow it until employers have a better sense of how this pandemic is going to impact where the best talent lives. 

*Methodology: The Fortune-SurveyMonkey poll was conducted among a national sample of 2,478 adults in the U.S. between August 17-18. This survey’s modeled error estimate is plus or minus 3 percentage points. The findings have been weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography.

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