According to a new poll of 1,200 registered voters from Rasmussen and Just the News, 42% of American voters predict that as a result of coronavirus, people will move out of large cities like New York. Pollsters often ask respondents what they expect to happen generally. When you look at the data by age, those between 18 and 44 hold that opinion at higher rates than the average.
This is particularly interesting because millennials, who are currently aged 24 to 39, have a well-documented preference for urban living. Yet in this survey, that age group says there will be an exodus from urban areas at rates of 44% and 47% respectively. Perhaps coronavirus has taught them that shuttling on a jam-packed human meat tube through an underground tunnel may have some downsides. While this pandemic has proven most dangerous to those over 65, that is not always true. Both H1N1 and the Spanish Flu had far higher mortality rates in the working-age population.
Members of Gen Z, those aged 18-24 in the survey, take the view people will move out of cities at a rate of 49%. This may indicate the millennials’ younger cousins were not enamored with or looking forward to an urban existence. Data has shown they are more cost-conscious than their older cousins and less likely to want to take on debt. With lower housing costs outside the city, this generation of savers (64% report having a savings account) may be eyeing homeownership rather than renting.
The pandemic has resulted in other changes that may make living outside the city more appealing. Economists predict the forced teleworking arrangements may outlast the pandemic. Companies that were slow to gravitate to work-from-home arrangements because of company culture or distrust have been forced to adopt the practice. Many are finding these arrangements are just as productive and can reduce their brick-and-mortar overhead costs. Amazon and Microsoft have already announced these polices will extend through October. As employers perfect these practices, it will help them attract talent by letting employees work from nearly anywhere. Commutes may be a thing of the past for many knowledge workers and call-center employees, allowing them to live where they prefer.
This should also be a consideration for business leaders as they consider reshoring some operations from China. Foreign automakers have had great success locating in small towns and investing in the local communities. Kia has transformed West Point, Georgia. Subaru has had similar success in Lafayette, Indiana. By making investments in workforce development and local schools they can help prepare a well-trained workforce. Even my own town has a welding program that gets support from local manufacturers for apprenticeships and job placement. After graduation from high school, almost all are placed in jobs making anywhere from $18 to $22 per hour to start.
Another interesting note from the poll was the fact that minority respondents also believed people will leave urban areas at higher rates than the poll average. Hispanic voters took this view at 48% while black voters responded it was likely at 50%. Minority communities were hardest hit in areas like New York by the current pandemic, which may explain the elevated response.
It is hard to look at a map of almost any state and not see that the experience with COVID-19 in outlying counties and towns was almost always far less severe that it was in the cities. With few hot spot exceptions, fewer people per square mile and less public transportation seem to be factors in limiting the spread. While social engineers, including several United Nations working groups, have envisioned a world where we all have our allotted space inside urban boundaries, the pandemic experience may put an end to those utopian fever dreams.
With the public knowing much more about how contagious diseases are transmitted and seeing how they can affect the economy and the individual, many more may search for wide open spaces. With good reason.