Skip to content
Subscriber Only
Justin Fox

The Big-City Exodus Isn’t Very Big (Yet)

Yes, the pandemic has caused some to flee New York and other cities. Whether the trend builds depends on the recovery.

A U-Haul at every house? Not exactly.

A U-Haul at every house? Not exactly.

Photographer: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

You may have heard that people are leaving big cities, particularly New York City. And why wouldn’t they? New York was brutalized by Covid-19 in the spring, and now confronts a 19.8% unemployment rate, huge budget shortfalls and a sharp rise in shootings. Other cities haven’t been quite so battered by the coronavirus, but face big challenges if pandemic-induced work-from-home arrangements engender a permanent shift of white-collar workers away from downtown offices.

What’s more, the global “superstar city” phenomenon was already showing signs of peaking before the pandemic, with New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Sydney, Toronto and others seeing increasing outflows of residents to other domestic locales in recent years. New York, after adding more than a million residents over the previous 25 years, has by the Census Bureau’s reckoning been losing population outright since 2016.