Despite popular media narratives and plenty of anecdotal evidence, it turns out that many of the people who picked up and moved during the pandemic did so so because of financial stress—not because they were wealthy city dwellers with a mortgage down payment burning a hole in their wallets.
According to a recent Pew Research Center study, people were more likely to mention covid rates in their area as the reason for their move in June, a few months into the pandemic. But as the pandemic stretched into the fall months, more people cited financial reasons, and fewer said covid risks factored into their decision. Seventeen percent of people cited unemployment as the source of their financial concerns, while 15 percent said they were facing economic hardships other than job loss.
The fall survey Pew conducted also showed that low-income people were more likely to have moved during the pandemic than higher-income earners in the middle and upper class strata.
These findings complicate widely accepted notions of who has moved during the pandemic, and why. Over the last several months, mainstream publications like the New York Times have churned out article after article about well-to-do urbanites fleeing the city to their country homes, or navigating the surprises of first-time homeownership, which include trying to heat a 1,700 square-foot home and receiving packages without a doorman. Or installing $75,000 in-ground pools in the backyards of those new homes.
With no universal mortgage or rent freezes to mitigate the financial toll of the pandemic—and with eviction notices piling up for millions of Americans and an eviction moratorium set to expire again at the end of March—it makes perfect sense that people might have to move out of their homes, not because they want to, but because they have no other choice.
It’s not that outrage-inducing stories about the lives of the home-owning, pool-installing rich preclude the possibility that people might move during the pandemic for reasons that stem from hardship, rather than privilege. It’s that the stories do not pause to consider it at all.