What 2020 Factors Impacted Migration Across the US? Let’s Find out!

Without a doubt, 2020 was a unique year. In March, when the state stay at home orders took shape, millions of people began working and schooling virtually, many for the first time. As the new normal set in, our research showed the reasons people moved began to evolve from trends we have seen in the past.

What Reasons Did People Give for Moving in 2020?

In early October, we released a press release citing the different motivations people and families had for moving. You can read that article here.

To recap the findings, those who listed COVID-19 as a primary driver for moving grew steadily from 5% in March to just over 15% in October. Among customers who cited the pandemic as an influence on their move, these were the top four most common factors:

  1. Concerns for personal and family health and well-being.
  2. Desires to be closer to family.
  3. Changes in employment status or work arrangement (including the ability to work remotely).
  4. Desires for lifestyle change or improvement of quality of life.

According to Michael A. Stoll, economist and professor in the Department of Public Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has been an acceleration of life events for some people. In our recent press release, he said “United Van Lines’ data makes it clear that migration to western and southern states, a prevalent pattern for the past several years, persisted in 2020. However, we’re seeing that the COVID-19 pandemic has without a doubt accelerated broader moving trends, including retirement driving top inbound regions as the Baby Boomer generation continues to reach that next phase of life.”

Besides moving for retirement, some moved because of new jobs. This included an influx of more relaxed working arrangements. In fact, there are multiple states attempting to take advantage of these new standards. According to articles like this one from CNBC, many states now offer incentives to move. There are reports of this from cities in Oklahoma, Vermont, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Iowa, Ohio and even Alaska and Hawaii on how they are now offering incentive programs to those who choose to move there for remote work.

These types of incentive programs aren’t new, of course, but the pandemic has seemed to increase the overall number of programs available. According to a recent Upwork survey, (as reported by NPR), “As many as 23 million Americans say they’re planning to move because of the flexibility offered by remote work.”

Did the COVID-19 State and City Restrictions and Population Density Lead to Year-Over-Year Ranking Changes?

Without a doubt, COVID-19 and the subsequent restrictions, due to multiple state mandated shutdowns, have profoundly effected many industries in 2020. It stands to reason then that it would also affect migration across the US. But, in what ways?

According to a recent analysis, the 10 states with the most COVID-19 restrictions throughout 2020 were California, Massachusetts, Maine, New Jersey, Colorado, Arizona, Oregon, District of Columbia, Pennsylvania and Virginia. 

Looking at our Migration Study results analysis comparing 2019 rankings with 2020 rankings, only Maine managed to increase YoY.

State20192020 (change)
CA4243 ↓1
MA3842 ↓4
ME2416 ↑8
NJ4848 –
CO1727 ↓10
AZ35 ↓2
OR23 ↓1
DC616 ↓10
PA2737 ↓10
VA3538 ↓3

*Vermont removed from rankings due to low overall numbers.

But, is that consistent with states that had the least amount of restrictions?

As you can see in the chart below, of the 10 states with the least restrictions, six gained in their rankings YoY, while two stayed the same and two decreased, with Iowa, Utah and Arkansas gaining significantly.

States w/ fewest COVID-19 RestrictionsUVL 2019 RankingsUVL 2020 Rankings (change)
SD94 ↑5
ID1 1 –
UT28 18 ↑10
OK2530 ↓5
IA39 23 ↑16
WI34 28 ↑6
WY16 12 ↑4
MO26 31 ↓5
ND40 40 –
AR20 10 ↑10

*Vermont removed from rankings due to low overall numbers.

While more research would be needed to make the direct correlation between restrictions and an increase or decrease in YoY rankings, this could be a quick snapshot of why some states fell in overall ranking in 2020, while others saw significant jumps. It will also be interesting, as we move into 2021 and beyond, to see if some of these moves revert to previous numbers or we continue to see the climbing states perform well.

The Top Five “Improved” States

These five states saw the greatest increase in rankings, regardless of reason, from 2019 to 2020:

  1. Iowa +16
  2. Michigan +12
  3. Montana +11
  4. Kentucky +11
  5. Arkansas +10

While not all are located in the Midwest, they are all interior states. Perhaps not a coincidence when you consider the top reported cases of COVID-19 throughout 2020 came mostly from coastal states like New York, California, Florida and Texas. Yet, new reports show Iowa ranked third in rate of COVID-19 cases per capita as of Dec. 22, 2020, while Montana is 11th, Arkansas 16th, Kentucky 29th and Michigan is ranked 34th.

The Five “Most Decreased” States

These states saw the biggest decline in YoY rankings:

  1. Washington – 12
  2. New Mexico – 10
  3. Colorado – 10
  4. Nebraska – 10
  5. Pennsylvania – 10
  6. Maryland – 10

Of those states, when compared to the rate of COVID-19 cases per capita, only Nebraska is in the top five while New Mexico is 22nd, Colorado 30th, Pennsylvania 40th, Maryland 42nd and Washington ranks 46th.

While more research is needed, one could argue that a correlation exists between states being “open” (meaning they have less restrictions and saw an increase in migration YoY) and increased COVID-19 numbers. This is not a big and bold claim, but rather an interesting look at the numbers as we close in on the one-year anniversary of the first reported US COVID-19 case.

What Cities Were Most Impacted by COVID-19?


COVID-19 affected several city migration patterns. Population density and city COVID restrictions could have played a significant role. When we compared 2019 to 2020, these were the cities most impacted by the pandemic last year.

Top three metro areas by increase in % outbound 2019 to 2020

  • San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley, CA
  • Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA
  • New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA

Top three metro areas by decrease in % outbound 2019 to 2020

  • Salt Lake City, UT
  • Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN
  • Richmond, VA

It could be years before we see the full impact of COVID-19 on migration patterns across the US, and even longer to see the impact these migrations will have on jobs, industries, population and even politics.

For more information and to see more results from our Annual Migration Study Results, click here.

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