New Yorkers are moving out of the city at nearly the same rate as before the pandemic
Residents leaving New York City in favor of other parts of the U.S. have long outnumbered those coming in. That imbalance skyrocketed during the pandemic and remained in the red as urbanites across the country flocked to cheaper and less dense regions.
Now, that uptick has slowed, and the city's rate of out-migration is nearing a full recovery.
That's according to a recent report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland analyzing urban migration data in the U.S. since 2010. The study predicts that New York's net migration will be fully back on course with pre-pandemic trends within the next three to nine months.
The four-quarter moving average of net migration for New York City's urban neighborhoods. The report classifies urban neighborhoods at those with population densities of more than 7,000 people per square mile.
"It seems like the pandemic boost of net out migration is sort of unwinding," said Stephan D. Whitaker, a policy economist at the Fed and author of the report.
Back on course, to be clear, does not mean migration is at a net positive or even an equilibrium. The city's domestic migration has been on a increasing decline for years, and recovery in this context simply means the city's rate of decline has slowed to pre-pandemic trends lines.
Still, the data complicates a narrative that New Yorkers and other urbanites are leaving cities at a faster rate than in years past. "There are some not very favorable headlines coming out about a lot of our major cities right now," Whitaker said. "Some people looking at just those headlines are going to think these cities are going to be bleeding population."
A recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau, for example, shows that the city lost 5.3% of its population since the beginning of the pandemic. But what the Fed report shows is that the rate at which people are leaving the city now is not all that unexpected or out of the ordinary.
"The numbers are not showing that for Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles," the author said. "You can definitely see a pandemic impact, but in those cases, it's reversing pretty quickly. It's heading back to at least the trend line — if not the level — that it was at prepandemic."
The reversal sets New York and the handful of cities Whitaker mentioned apart from other urban areas where out-migration continues to get worse. Metros the likes of Boston, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Phoenix, Portland and Seattle are struggling with downward emigration rates that appear unwilling to give. "They're not going back to their trends," he said.
New York's urban neighborhoods saw a net loss of about 31,600 residents to domestic migration during the first quarter of 2023, according to the report. That's roughly half the decline the city saw at the peak out-migration of 2021 and within striking distance of where pre-pandemic trend lines would have expected it to be.
It should be noted that domestic migration is just one of many factors that determine overall population trends. "Whenever we think about population change, there are three things that feed into it: international migration, domestic migration and natural increase," Whitaker said.
In other words, urban centers like New York can see their negative domestic migration offset by other factors, such as having a high birth rate or a strong international appeal. That means cities like New York are not going to see significant population decline as a result of domestic out-migration, at least not at the rate it's at now.
"There's always more people moving out of New York, moving out of the Chicago metro than are moving in," Whitaker said. "The trend line has been increasing net out-migration for the last 10 years, and that's still pretty much the case. That's where the recovery has taken them."