Big City Exodus: Welcome to the Suburbs!

People Are Trading the Big City for a Better Quality of Life. Where Are They Moving To?

Back in March, major cities like New York City and San Francisco saw an outflux of residents leaving the pandemic-riddled mega metropolises for more cozy and quiet places offered by smaller cities and the suburbs. Some temporarily moved in with families while others left and claimed they will never turn back. Regardless of where they ended up, there was a consistent reason why: living in a highly populated, dense city is not conducive to a world that revolves around social-distancing protocols and shelter-in-place mandates.

City living already features a cramped lifestyle filled with too-close-for-comfort subway rides, overpriced lofts, and underappreciated parks that are sparse and hard to visit. Residents are willing to put up with higher crime rates in exchange for more intriguing and exciting activities, like the spectacular nightlife, unbelievable restaurants, and diverse culture scene. Take those enterprises away and you create a stagnant claustrophobic environment that limits you to the entrance of your stairwell. All things considered, it’s not really surprising why people want out.

Note: When referring to “megacities,” “major metropolises,” or “high-tax cities” throughout this article, we are referring specifically to New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

Where Is Everyone Moving To?

Over the past ten years, major corporations have begun relocating to more affordable cities. This move isn’t just for the high-up executives looking for extra corporate savings but for their employees fed up with the daily nuances of living in high-tax cities. These businesses are looking to retain their employees and feel that the only way they can effectively do that is to increase their quality of living.

The other result of the coronavirus was the shift from in-office to remote work. Without the need to be at the office and with an increase in the unemployment rate, people saw a way out of these megacities to places where costs and taxes are low, while extra living space is in abundance.

Information provided by Bloomberg

Why Are People Moving?

While many consider COVID-19 to be many city dwellers’ last straw, the mass migration is actually due to a plethora of issues that are all summed up in one phrase: the search for a better quality of life. The hustle and bustle of megacities have become too much for residents looking to settle down or live a less-stressed lifestyle. These people are searching for freedom, something they feel is taken away when living in a major metropolitan area.

Low-Income Tax

The majority of inbound states feature significantly lower income taxes compared to most U.S. cities. Making the move to better tax states can save new residents thousands of dollars over the course of just a few years.

Sources:, New York Department of Taxation and Finance, California Franchise Tax Board, Illinois Department of Revenue, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Nevada Department of Taxation, Florida Department of Revenue, Oregon Department of Revenue, Washington Department of Revenue, North Carolina Department of Revenue, South Carolina Department of Revenue, Tennessee Department of Revenue, Pennsylvania Department of Revenue, Utah State Tax Commission, Idaho State Tax Commission, Wisconsin Department of Revenue, Missouri Department of Revenue, Indiana Department of Revenue, Georgia Department of Revenue, Virginia Department of Taxation

Homeless Issue

Cities are not doing enough to help the homeless problem of these big cities. The result is a decentralized population that becomes insurmountably harder to support and can harm the economy in the long term.


When an Uber from Prospect Park to Williamsburg, Brooklyn – roughly a 1.5-mile journey – takes 45 minutes at $20/mile, it’s not pretty. Throw in a deteriorating public transportation system that doubles as a COVID-19 superspreader and you’ll understand why residents want out.

Cost of Living

Purchasing a $12 craft beer and then hustling up an eight-story building without AC to a $2400 loft no bigger than 450 square feet is just a small example of the daily upcharge expenses people experience while living in the city.

Information provided by Tax Foundation

More Living Space

Whether it’s the apartment sizes (see above) or the lack of public parks, it’s hard to imagine living through these conditions with “shelter-in-place” mandates. In the end, we’re human beings and we need open space to roam.

Violent Crime Has Increased In Cities

With the rate of violence, rising, people want to find safer homes for themselves and their families. However, it is very likely this increase in violence is only temporary and an indirect result of the pandemic.

People Are Leaving the Biggest Cities (But Not Every City)

A recent Zillow report found that “in all but a few cases, suburban markets and urban markets have seen similar changes in activity in recent months: about the same share of homes selling above their list price, similar changes in the typical time homes spend on the market before an offer is accepted, and recent improvements in newly pending sales have been about the same across each region type.”

This nationwide report indicates people are not leaving cities for suburbia. It’s very possible this is true but neglects to mention what is happening in these four major cities specifically: New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

New York City: Manhattan broke a real estate record with over 15,000 empty apartments in August.

San Francisco: Saw almost a 100 percent increase in home inventory.

Los Angeles: Saw almost a 10 percent increase in home inventory.

Chicago: Known as the Illinois Exodus, the emigration from this city (and state) is more of a several years-long trend than a COVID-19 influence.

Graph provided by Zillow

Considering the entire nation is experiencing a nationwide housing shortage and historic-low mortgage rates, these data points are clear outliers and indicators that residents are leaving these cities in droves. But that doesn’t mean it will be forever.

With everything being said by TV pundits and keyboard warriors (oh the irony of creating this blog), this big city exodus may only be temporary. We don’t know though. There are so many uncertain variables in play that making a prediction would be borderline asinine thinking. Right now, the best thing to do is observe and keep tabs on the monthly changes happening in these cities. Here are some other items to consider as to why else people are leaving, where they are moving to, and if they will return.

  • There’s a growing consensus people don’t want to move to the suburbs but to smaller, more manageable cities.
  • People may be panic moving due to the uncertainty of the virus.
  • The wealthy make up a good percentage of those leaving and eerily reflect what happened during the Spanish Influenza in 1918.
  • This exodus may be temporary; more than half of ex-San Franciscans in a small survey said they’d return.
  • By a large margin, San Francisco is seeing the largest outflux of residents due to sky-high real estate prices and major tech companies going remote.
  • Year over year New York City rent prices dropped by 6.6 percent for the month of June.
Information provided by Zillow