2020 Migration Trends: People Moving Again, Exiting NYC and Bay Area

Jan 4, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has coincided with more do-it-yourself movers leaving densely populated U.S. areas, specifically New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area, according to a U-Haul® special report analyzing migration trends from 2020.

U-Haul transaction data also reveals Americans are moving again in growing numbers, and have been since May.

In addition to its annual growth states and growth cities rankings and reports, U-Haul considered the potential influence the virus had on self-movers, and looked at regions where overwhelming demand for one-way U-Haul trucks mirrored consistent out-migration.

“While some people were hesitant to move during shelter-in-place mandates, those who moved were doing so out of necessity,” U-Haul President John “J.T.” Taylor said. “We have been open and available to help all along as an essential service provider. As 2020 went along, we saw that more and more individuals and families recognized they can move safely.”

Seeking Less-Crowded Destinations

From the time that President Trump declared the pandemic a National Emergency in March, the 30 most populated U.S. cities (based on 2019 Census estimates) all witnessed more U-Haul trucks departing than arriving over the next three months. This indicated customers who were able to move, on the whole, were looking to escape urban cores for less-crowded destinations.

The Bay Area and New York City were among the most prevalent out-migration markets in U.S. during this three-month period – and throughout 2020.

San Francisco was a slight growth city in 2019, with more U-Haul trucks entering the city than leaving it. But in 2020, San Francisco was the epicenter of the Bay Area’s exodus. Departures accounted for 58% of all one-way U-Haul traffic from March through June. Limited fleet inventory prevented the numbers from being more lopsided in favor of departures. The ratios in San Jose and Oakland were similar.

For the entire Bay Area, arrivals from March-December 2020 dropped 31% year-over-year, while departures tapered by just 12% from their 2019 pace to create the disparity of more trucks going out than coming in.

Like San Francisco, New York City welcomed more self-movers than it bid farewell in 2019. That migration trend reversed in 2020. Severe stagnation occurred during the shutdown. From March to June, arrivals to the five boroughs plummeted 58% year-over-year, while departures were curbed only by limited fleet inventory as trucks left the city.

From March-December 2020, U-Haul arrivals to New York City were down 35% year-over-year.

Leaving New York City

Top destination cities for U-Haul customers leaving New York City during the pandemic include Bridgeport, Poughkeepsie and New Haven. Outside the Northeast, the top destination is Chicago in the Midwest and Atlanta in the South.

The top 10 states DIY movers from New York City are migrating to are: New York (outside NYC); New Jersey; Pennsylvania; Connecticut; Massachusetts; Virginia; Maryland; Florida; Rhode Island; and North Carolina.

Leaving the Bay Area

Top destination cities for U-Haul customers leaving the Bay Area during the pandemic include the Sacramento/Roseville corridor, San Diego and Stockton. Outside of California, the top destinations are Reno, Las Vegas, Portland, Phoenix and Seattle.

The top 10 states DIY movers from the Bay Area customers are migrating to are: California (outside the Bay Area); Nevada; Arizona; Oregon; Washington; Colorado; Texas; Utah; Idaho; and New Mexico.

Self-Moves Surge After Shutdown

Self-moves sputtered in April when shutdowns across the country generated uncertainty. But starting in May, one-way U-Haul truck rentals began to rise with each passing month. May is traditionally the start of the summer moving season, with nearly half of all household moves occurring between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends.

MONTHOne-Way U-Haul Truck Rentals in 2020 Compared to the Previous Month

Taylor noted that contactless business options like U-Haul Truck Share 24/7® with built-in social distancing protocols, and enhanced equipment sanitation, reassure customers about using U-Haul. There is also the added appeal to a self-move during the pandemic, minimizing exposure from others during the process of relocating one’s family and belongings.

Significant Sample Size

Migration trends data is compiled from more than 2 million one-way U-Haul truck-sharing transactions that occur annually. U-Haul is the authority on migration trends thanks to its expansive network that blankets all 50 states and 10 Canadian provinces, offering a comprehensive overview of where people are moving like no one else in the industry.

U-Haul, headquartered in Phoenix and celebrating 75 years in business, releases its growth cities and growth states rankings and reports each January to recap the past year. Find those releases and more at myuhaulstory.com.

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