Arizona is No. 4 for pandemic population growth
The great migration during the pandemic saw big cities and pricey states lose population, while suburbs and budget-friendly locales rolled out the welcome mat. Arizona saw its population grow significantly during the pandemic.
Did you move during the pandemic? You’re not alone. But where did everyone go? Did everyone really leave the coasts (ahem, New York and California)?
We looked at the latest US Census release on population, the first to consider population at the beginning of the pandemic (April 1, 2020) and again well into it (July 1, 2021), to see which states had the most population movement — in both directions.
States that gained the most population
By now, you’re no doubt wondering where all of these relocators landed. Think space and suburbs. Also, a more attractive cost of living compared to more high-profile locales like New York and California. Spoiler alert: The West’s wide-open spaces are well represented among the states with the biggest population changes — in the positive column.
The sole Southern state to crack the top five, South Carolina gained more than 72,000 new residents during the pandemic, 1.41 percent of its pre-pandemic population.
Between the charm of Charleston, miles of sandy beaches and the low-country mystique, there’s a lot to love about South Carolina. The draw isn’t solely about Southern hospitality, though. To begin with, housing here is cheaper than average — and among the cheapest in our top five. As of July, a one-bedroom in South Carolina will cost you just shy of $1,200 — a slight increase from the start of the pandemic, when it was more like $1,061.
Other factors for the influx include job opportunities, warmer temps and plenty of green space.
The state of Arizona is not shy about its power to attract relocators. As GPEC CEO, Chris Camacho, told Fox 10 Phoenix, “We’re a magnet for people who want to relocate out of high-tax and high-cost areas” like California.
So, where are the most popular places to move in Arizona? Tech companies are moving to Chandler, while outdoor enthusiasts are flocking to Flagstaff. Meanwhile, the population of Phoenix is blowing up, and cities scattered around the state are welcoming newcomers attracted to both the low(er) cost of living and the Sonoran Desert’s wide-open spaces.
What did you do during the pandemic? Did you watch a little (OK, four seasons of) “Yellowstone?” Same. And we’re not alone. We’d like to hypothesize that more than a few of those binge sessions led a slew of city dwellers to pick up and move to Montana. To be honest, we would probably do the same, if we could swing it.
If you’re craving space, Montana is basically Mecca, and a lot of people made the pilgrimage during the pandemic. Many took advantage of work-from-home polices and the state’s low rent prices that have only gotten lower. A two-bedroom apartment in Montana would have cost you $1,167 when the pandemic was picking up steam. And last summer? A cool $960. That’s two bedrooms for under a grand! Maybe we can swing it after all.
Utah, home of glorious national parks like Zion, Arches and Canyonlands, drew the second-highest proportion of new residents during the pandemic when the population grew more than 2 percent.
And while rent prices have ticked up a bit in recent months, you can still find housing bargains. Venture beyond Salt Lake and Park City to uncover the cheapest cities in Utah for renters. As of the summer, average rent prices for one-bedrooms were $1,237 and $1,650 for two bedrooms. Consider springing for the spare room — you’re going to have a lot of visitors come ski season.
It turns out a lot of the folks who left California beelined for beautiful Idaho. Boise is booming to accommodate all of these new residents, with schools, roads, hospitals and houses under construction seemingly on every corner. Safety is one factor, but so is fantastic weather and outdoor recreation opportunities. There’s also perhaps the biggest draw: a much lower cost of living. Not to mention, the Gem State is undeniably beautiful.
While an influx of relocators is nothing new to the Western state, the pandemic intensified the influx. Over the course of 15 months, Idaho’s population grew by nearly 3.5 percent. So, there’s no time like the present to explore the best places to live in Idaho where you can expect to pay under $1,550 for two bedrooms — roughly half the cost of the same space in California.
States that lost the most population
There were a lot of headlines about mass exoduses in some very popular, and very expensive, states during the pandemic. From the Pacific to the Atlantic and even the Midwest, quite a few people packed their bags to leave their state. Whether these population changes are temporary or permanent is not yet known. Here are the states which lost the highest proportion of its population.
You’ve probably read the headlines about Californians leaving the state in droves, but other factors played a role. According to the Los Angeles Times, the three main factors that led to the state’s population decline included lower immigration, fewer births and pandemic deaths. If you talk to the folks who flocked to states like Texas, they’ll tell you another story. Namely, living in California is simply too expensive.
Consider a city like San Francisco, where the cost of living is 94 percent higher than the national average. Whatever the reason(s) for more than 300,000 residents making a move, a population decline isn’t the worst thing in the world for a historically overpopulated state with a severe affordable housing crisis.
Wait, what? Who would want to leave Hawaii — and why? Hint: It’s not just the pandemic. In fact, Hawaii’s population has been in decline for the past five years. Its killer waves and pastel sunsets just can’t make up for the state’s notoriously high cost of living.
Add to that a high unemployment rate during the pandemic when vacationers collectively hit pause on their plans, and the trend isn’t all that surprising. Still, we feel for the nearly 14,000 people who said goodbye to island life. Sure, they probably pay less rent wherever they landed, but those sunsets are impossible to replace.
Like Hawaii, Illinois’ population decline started well before the pandemic. Eight years before, if you’re counting. Even before the pandemic exacerbated the problem and pushed outmigration to record levels, factors like housing, employment opportunities and taxes inspired residents to settle elsewhere.
The upside of this exodus may be rent prices. The cost for a one-bedroom apartment in Illinois dropped from $1,657 at the start of the pandemic to $1,268 last summer.
2. New York
Contrary to popular belief, New York did not see the biggest population decline by proportion during the pandemic. All the familiar factors played a role, of course, from the sky-high cost of living in places like New York City to unemployment rates pushed to the brink by the pandemic.
And then there’s the simple fact of city living during a pandemic. Perhaps at no other point in history have more people craved space to spread out. Unfortunately, this being New York, rent prices across the state actually went up during the pandemic (by around $432).
Unlike some of the other states in our top 5, Washington, D.C.’s population was not in decline pre-pandemic. In fact, D.C. was growing for a decade and a half before the pandemic abruptly reversed the trend.
So, where is everyone going when they leave the nation’s capital? Not far, it turns out. According to the Washington Post, at least 31 percent of those who left landed in the Washington metro area, from Bethesda to Arlington. D.C. lost nearly 3 percent of its population when the pandemic shut cities down across the globe, and residents flocked to the suburbs.
Population changes in every state
Wondering how your home state stacked up during the pandemic? Did more people arrive, or pack their bags? Here are the population gains and losses from coast to coast.