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Press Release

Did the COVID-19 Pandemic Cause Residents to Leave Urban Neighborhoods?

A new Cleveland Fed report finds that the widely reported flight of residents from urban neighborhoods during the pandemic is reflected in migration flows. But the real story behind people’s motivations for exiting and avoiding urban communities is more complicated.

In this data brief, Cleveland Fed researcher Stephan Whitaker explores the factual grounding of narratives around the perceived urban exodus of 2020: Were people afraid of contracting the novel coronavirus in dense neighborhoods? Were they liberated to move because of the shift to remote work? In his analysis of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York/Equifax Consumer Credit Panel, Whitaker finds:

  • Net out-migration was greater for metro areas that had more deaths from COVID-19 and those with more telework-capable occupations.
  • Metro areas that had more small businesses remain open experienced less net out-migration.
  • The increases in homicides in the metro area’s central city was not associated with increased net out-migration.

“Out-migration did increase in many urban neighborhoods, with larger cities having the greatest shift, but the magnitudes probably would not fit most definitions of an exodus,” says Whitaker. “What is certain is that hundreds of thousands of people who would have moved into an urban neighborhood in a typical year were unwilling or unable to do so in 2020.”

Read the Data Brief.

Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland

The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland is one of 12 regional Reserve Banks that along with the Board of Governors in Washington DC comprise the Federal Reserve System. Part of the US central bank, the Cleveland Fed participates in the formulation of our nation’s monetary policy, supervises banking organizations, provides payment and other services to financial institutions and to the US Treasury, and performs many activities that support Federal Reserve operations System-wide. In addition, the Bank supports the well-being of communities across the Fourth Federal Reserve District through a wide array of research, outreach, and educational activities.

The Cleveland Fed, with branches in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, serves an area that comprises Ohio, western Pennsylvania, eastern Kentucky, and the northern panhandle of West Virginia.

Media contact

Doug Campbell,, 513.455.4479