Americans move to Texas, Florida and Alabama as more work from home since COVID

Some do it for the cost of living. Others do it for comfort, to be closer to loved ones, or for that new job.

Whatever the reason, Americans were still on the move in 2021, the first full year lived during the COVID-19 pandemic, several reports show.

Pew Research says 26.5 million people moved from one home in the U.S. to another between March 2020 and March 2021--about 800,000 fewer moves than in the same time span between  2019 and 2020 -- based on the most current data available  from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. 

And many of them migrated to the South, according to studies conducted by national moving and housing experts.

Here's where folks are moving, and why.

Americans move to Florida, South Carolina, Arizona 

Most Americans, headed south,  with South Carolina, West Virginia, Florida, Alabama and Tennessee among the most popular destinations, according to a recent study by United Van Lines.

North American Van Lines reported similar findings  but included Arizona near the top of its  list.

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However, Vermont, followed by South Dakota, were the most popular states to move to, according to United Van Lines' Annual National Movers Study.

New job leaves many willing to relocate

The United Van Lines study found that 32% of those who moved wanted to be closer to family  or relocated for a new job or job transfer. 

Being closer to family represents "a new trend coming out of the pandemic as priorities and lifestyle choices shift," the study said. Meanwhile, the number of Americans who moved for a new job or job transfer marks "a significant decrease" from 2015 when more than 60% cited a job or transfer as a reason to relocate.

Remote work paves way for a move

The North American Van Lines report estimated that 20% more Americans moved in 2021 compared to 2020 because of new remote work opportunities that "enabled an estimated 14-23 million Americans to relocate." 

In addition to wanting to leave high-density areas to avoid contracting COVID-19, many Americans are moving "due to the transformation of how we're able to work, with more flexibility to work remote,'' said Michael Stoll, a public policy professor and economist at UCLA in a statement about the United Van Lines study.

Most Americans would be willing to move for a job.

A recent Dataforest by Sequoia survey of 423 leaders of mainly California-based tech companies foundthat more than half will allow their employees to permanently relocate to a new state. And those  businesses didn't plan to adjust salaries to reflect differences in the cost of living or the labor market .

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"Since many – especially tech companies – will allow their employees to work remotely even after the end of the pandemic, we see many people moving away from San Francisco and other big and expensive areas,"  said Nadia Evangelou, a senior economist and director of forecasting with the National Association of Realtors (NAR). "Since they can keep their jobs, they move to a more affordable area."

For instance, Evangelou said, in the San Francisco Bay Area, there are about 500 homes currently listed for sale that a household earning $100,000-$125,000 can afford to buy.

Compared with the number of households that earn that income, there is one affordable listing for every 310 households, she said. However, there is one affordable listing for every 134 households in that income range in Austin, Texas. 

"Thus, people in Austin metro area are more likely to become homeowners," Evangelou said. "With teleworking expected to continue even after the end of the pandemic, we anticipate more people will do the same."

Some move, but stay in state

The studies showing more Americans migrating to the South are also consistent with data compiled by the NAR. 

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The data shows that most of the areas that experienced migration gains in 2021 were located in the Sun Belt region: Florida, Arizona, Texas, South Carolina and North Carolina, Evangelou said.

Many packed up the moving van to relocate to another community in the same state. Inbound moves within Florida exceeded outbound moves by 34% on average, Evangelou's research found.

In Texas, inbound moves topped moves out of state by 31%.  And inbound moves beat out of state moves on average by 23% in Arizona, 28% in South Carolina, and 25% in North Carolina, according to Evangelou. 

"The Sun Belt states are more affordable and generally have lower tax burden and strong job growth," said Evangelou who plans to release an update next month. 

Vaccine, retirement also leads to moves 

Another reason Americans could be on the move is that millions were vaccinated in 2021. That's compared to 2020 when a number of  Americans “panic-moved,” meaning they relocated out of fear of the pandemic and being isolated in quarantine far from family and friends, said NAR.   

Americans also sought out new communities because of retirement, a desire for a different lifestyle, and cost of living, the United Van Lines study said. 

However, there are still a lot of Americans who can't afford to move because of the rising cost of mortgages, rents, and the ongoing pandemic, said Riordan Frost, a research analyst at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

"There's an assumption that most Americans have figured it all out, but that's totally not the case," said Frost, who's written extensively about where Americans have moved during the pandemic. "There’s stuff we see in the data, but there’s a lot of what we don’t see in terms of the challenges faced by many households across the country.

"There's a lot that remains to be seen," Frost concluded.