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New England states see wave of in-migration during the pandemic

house for sale sign
American Advisors Group
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New England states have seen a rise in migration during the pandemic. A study shows that 36 counties gained households since the first U.S. outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020.

Nicholas Chiumenti, a senior policy analyst and author of the study at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, said the pandemic changed the way people moved into New England and specifically Connecticut. The state went from losing over 18,000 households in 2019 to gaining over 5,000 households last year.

“This came from a mix of people moving into the state, ostensibly temporarily, either because they can now work from home and they want to try out living in the state. Maybe they're taking advantage of a second home,” Chiumenti said during an interview on Friday, Dec. 3. “But there’s also a combination of folks moving into the state permanently. Much of that in-migration that did come from temporary moves to the state.”

Many of the moves were temporary, instead of changing permanent residence, Chiumenti said. Only some of the new residents filled out permanent requests to move through the U.S. Postal Service.

“If they’re filing a temporary request to move, essentially what that means is they're saying it can be as little as 15 days or up to one year,” Chiumenti said. “After that period of time, I expect to return to where I originally came from or my original residence and my mail is going to be filed back.”

He said if the household is making a permanent request, they are considered new residents.

Change-of-address requests spiked at the beginning of the pandemic.

  • There were 21% more requests in March 2020 compared with March 2019 across the U.S.
  • In New England, the increase in the total number of requests made in March 2020 compared with the same period the year before ranged from 22% in Rhode Island to 50% in Vermont. 
  •  The total number of requests made to the postal service increased in many states into April 2020, but started declining once travel restrictions were enforced during the late spring and early summer. 
  • Requests started climbing toward the end of 2020 once restrictions were relaxed as more people took that opportunity to relocate.

The Northeast region gained at least 43,000 temporary households last year. Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont saw the most gains as people moved out of major cities to spacious suburbs.

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Federal Reserve Bank of Boston
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New Haven County, Connecticut, was one of a few places in New England that became a temporary home for people to work remotely during the pandemic.

Chiumenti found that more people moved to suburban areas because they were allowed to work from anywhere.

“I think a lot of urban areas in the region probably have folks that are renting apartments or living in small spaces. All of a sudden, they can work from home so they really want more space to be able to have home offices or maybe they are interested in living in the community,” Chiumenti said. “We saw a lot of people move out of urban areas into suburban and some cases rural communities in search of more space”

Chiumenti also said people might have wanted to get away from urban areas that were hot spots for the virus in the beginning of the pandemic.

Massachusetts was the only New England state that lost more households in 2020 through outmigration than it did in 2019.

Natalie is a former news fellow with WSHU Public Radio.