Fewer People Moved for Work in 2021, Signaling a Shift in Priorities

The “Great Resignation.” Most everyone has heard about it by now. The premise? That the pandemic caused many to rethink what matters in life, and to act — and, in some cases, move — accordingly. 

What’s happening nationwide is food for thought, for sure. It is, however, more nuanced than catch phrases may lead you to believe. United Van Lines 2021 Annual National Movers Study — as well as its companion survey about motivational drivers — revealed some interesting trends. For one thing, there was a notable decline in those who moved for a new job or job transfer (32.5%, down from 41.7% in 2020, 49.2% in 2019, 51.4% in 2018 and 60.1% in 2015). That is down more than 25 points from 2015.  

Moves due to job change or transfer over time averaging all states

Moves due to job change or transfer by demographic in 2021

So, what gives? Let’s dig deeper. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, month after month, there were more “quits” in 2021 than ever before. Its Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary reports that approximately 11 million jobs were available in the U.S in November – and just 6.9 million people looking. Meanwhile, many employers are paying more and providing better benefits just to attract candidates.  

The Atlantic suggests these resignations mostly apply to low-wage workers who have moved on to better jobs in better-paying industries. Author Derek Thompson equates what’s happening to a “job hop,” likening the low-wage, service-sector economy to a sports league-like “free agency.”  

Those working in higher-paying industries, on the other hand, have found more flexibility in not just how, but also where, they work.  

As noted in our Annual National Movers Study, moving for lifestyle reasons — be it balmier weather, an oceanside setting or mountain view — is on the rise. In 2015, just 9.5% of those who moved with us reported doing so for a better lifestyle. That number leapt to 12.1% in 2018 and has been rising ever since. At the start of the pandemic, 13% of respondents cited lifestyle as the primary reason for their moves. Now that number sits at 14.4%, further signaling a shift in priorities. 

But what does this have to do with the state of work? According to GoodHire, whose survey, The State of the Remote Workforce in 2021, notes: 

  • 68% of Americans prefer remote work over in-office work 
  • 45% of Americans would rather quit their job or immediately seek remote work if required to return to their office full-time 
  • More than 25% of respondents specifically said they’d quit if a return-to-the-office policy was enlisted 
  • 85% of Americans prefer to apply for jobs that offer remote flexibility and just 15% would apply for a role requiring full-time, onsite work. 

Now, layer in the top states with inbound moves through United Van Lines and the plot thickens — unilaterally, destinations taking the top slots are outdoorsy locales — cities with or near notable outdoor recreation; warm weather towns; or cities near the ocean, in the desert or in the mountains.  

Top Inbound Cities in 2021 

  • Medford/Ashland, OR (83%)
  • Punta Gorda, FL (81%) 
  • Wilmington, NC (80%) 
  • Eugene-Springfield, OR (79%) 
  • Sarasota, FL (79%) 
  • Sioux Falls, SD (78%)
  • Fort Meyers, FL (77%) 
  • Myrtle Beach, SC (76%) 
  • Santa Fe, NM (76%) 
  • Bellingham, WA (72%)

At the end of the day, it’s clear the pandemic gave workers a better sense of their worth, solidified the importance of work/life balance and proved an alternate work model can not only work, but also gives them the quality of life they have come to expect, in a setting they prefer. 

Want to learn more about what motivates people to move? Dive into our 2021 Annual National Movers Study and our other blogs for a wealth of information to help you learn more moving trends. 

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