For generations, my mother's family was strictly Northeastern. It was based around Philadelphia, and one rarely moved further than New England. But over the last two decades, all that has changed.
I am the only member of my generation who still lives in the Northeast – if you count the Washington, DC area, as part of the Northeast. My sister lives in Colorado. My first cousins had moved to California, Colorado and Texas. Job opportunities and housing costs are the main reasons for our deployment.
My family is part of a national pattern. Over the past decade, college graduates have followed a proven trend among low-income Americans. They are increasingly moving out of the country's most expensive metropolitan area, according to an analysis of Times census data.
Since before the Covid pandemic began, more working-age college graduates have left New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles than have moved to the area. Over the past few years — as remote work has become more commonplace — the list of areas losing college-educated workers has grown to include San Francisco and Washington. Many of the people who left the scene have moved to cheaper major metro areas, such as Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Nashville, Phoenix, and Tampa.
“My living room is bigger than any New York apartment I've ever owned,” says Eduardo Lerro, 45, a former public school teacher who now lives in Minneapolis and works as a consultant.
In many ways, trends are healthy. Americans responded rationally to financial incentives and built a life for themselves in a new place. It helps that more cities have added facilities once associated with the Northeast and West Coast.
“Smaller, more affordable cities are more in demand than ever before,” says my colleague Emily Badger, who conducted the new analysis with Robert Gebeloff and Josh Katz. “There is great Indian and Thai food that can be found in more places. There is a thriving tech worker scene outside the Bay Area. Many medium-sized cities have rebuilt their downtown over the last 20 years.”
At the same time, the pattern highlights a major problem in many large US metro areas: Housing has become so expensive that even relatively high-paying professionals are choosing to leave. Emily called it “a pretty grim indictment of these places”. This is arguably the Democratic Party's greatest failure at the local and state level, given that the most expensive areas tend to be run by Democrats.
For people who choose to move, the decision can be uncomfortable. My family, for example, had a much harder time getting everyone together than it was growing up. But the biggest hardship fell on working-class families who chose to remain in the country's most expensive areas.
There are millions of such families. The relocation rate of Americans without a college degree has even fallen in recent years, for complex reasons, as Emily notes. For these families, the cost of housing is a major obstacle to middle class life.
All of which help explain why the nascent effort to encourage more home building in costly areas—sometimes called the YIMBY movement, for Yes in My Backyard—is perhaps one of the most important movements in American politics today.
Read more on the subject in a recent Times coverage:
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