downtown Minneapolis

Bye Bye Big City – Why So Many Americans are Fleeing

What is the Big City?

The big city represents the epitome of modern urban life. People migrate to these metropolises in search of career opportunities, cultural experiences, and an exciting lifestyle.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the fabric of city life, prompting many Americans to rethink their living choices.


man exiting with briefcase


Why are People Fleeing Urban Centers?

In recent years, there has been a significant trend of Americans leaving urban centers and moving to smaller cities and suburbs, California ranks second in the country for outbound moves. [1]

This trend has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting shift towards remote work. High housing costs in major cities have also played a significant role in driving people away.

Cities like San Francisco, New York, and Washington D.C., with their high housing costs and congestion, have seen some of the largest gaps between people looking to leave and those looking to move in.

The pandemic has made remote work more feasible, allowing many people to live in more affordable areas outside these city centers while still working for their employers.

According to a recent survey by Freddie Mac, a leading provider of mortgage financing in the US, there has been a significant increase in demand for housing in more affordable cities outside of major urban centers.

This trend is expected to continue as the pandemic has made remote work a permanent arrangement for many employers.

High housing costs in major cities have been a driving factor causing people to leave. The median home price in San Francisco is over $1.4 million, while the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in New York City is $2,800 per month.

In contrast, smaller cities like Raleigh, North Carolina, and San Antonio, Texas offer more affordable living options.


moving truck with boxes in back end


Housing Costs

With the rising cost of living and the impact of the pandemic, many Americans are reevaluating where they want to live.

High housing costs in major cities have caused a shift towards more affordable cities, resulting in a mass exodus from urban centers.

According to a report by the National Association of Realtors, California’s median home price has surpassed $800,000, while the national median home sales price has hit a record high of $416,000. The state of California is also experiencing a decrease in its middle class. [2]


woman with hands over ears stressed over housing costs


Skyrocketing Prices

As America’s population continues to grow, water-related issues such as impact fees and water supply shortages are driving up housing costs in growing urban areas.

Many cities are struggling to secure water and wastewater services for new homeowners while also keeping up with population growth, resulting in skyrocketing prices.

Castle Rock, the largest city in Douglas County, Colorado, in response to water shortages, charges impact fees to new developers to pay for new infrastructure needed to conserve and use water efficiently. This, in turn, raises the overall cost of housing for new homeowners.

Queen Creek, Arizona, has implemented strict water conservation regulations to protect its groundwater supply. These regulations include mandatory low-flow showerheads and faucets, as well as restrictions on watering lawns and other landscaping during certain times of the day.

Many cities are also turning to groundwater sources to supplement their water supply. However, these sources can be costly to develop and maintain, contributing further to the overall cost of housing.

The most expensive areas in America tend to be large, populous cities such as San Francisco and Washington D.C. These cities have high median home prices and cost of living, making them less affordable for the average buyer.

Other factors contributing to skyrocketing prices include intense population growth and housing policy. In North Carolina, rural areas are seeing increased demand for housing due to urban areas becoming too expensive. This influx of new residents has led to a shortage of available housing units, driving prices even higher.

Unaffordable Mortgages

As housing costs in urban centers continue to rise, unaffordable mortgages are becoming a significant factor driving people away from these areas.

The high median home prices in major cities, combined with the high cost of living, have made it difficult for many people to purchase a home in an urban center.

According to Freddie Mac, a government-sponsored mortgage agency, the average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is currently around 3.18%. [3]

Also a report from Freddie Mac in June, there is evidence to suggest that individuals are searching for more cost-effective locations to purchase homes. [4]

The study discovered that from March 2020 to February 2022, out-of-town homebuyers gravitated towards cities situated in “affordable interior markets and Southern beach destinations,” such as Dallas, Phoenix, and Tampa.

It’s important to note that buyers shouldn’t expect to save money across the board in these affordable alternatives, as other factors such as property taxes and cost of living can vary greatly from city to city.

The current trend of people looking for more affordable spots to buy homes has resulted in a concentration of out-of-town homebuyers in “affordable interior markets and Southern beach destinations”.

This trend highlights the desire for homeowners to find affordable housing options without sacrificing quality of life.


couple packing for move


Long-Term Impact of High Prices

High housing prices in urban centers have had a significant impact on the behavior of the general population, both in the short term and long term.

People in major cities are choosing to relocate to more affordable American cities.

The cost of living in major cities, particularly the cost of housing, is known to be high compared to other cities. According to a study conducted by Apartment List, the following cities have the highest median home prices in the United States, with residents spending around 42% of their income on housing alone:

  • San Francisco
  • San Jose
  • Washington D.C.

This has resulted in urban centers becoming inaccessible for many people, particularly those with low to moderate incomes.

As a result, an increasing number of people are choosing to migrate to more affordable cities and suburbs.

Cities such as San Antonio and Tampa have seen a population growth of 11.6% and 12.8% respectively, while San Diego and San Francisco have seen a population decline of 2.2% and 1.4% respectively between 2010 and 2019.

This trend of economic migration to suburbs and rural areas is significantly affecting the aging population in urban centers. As individuals retire, they are seeking out more affordable housing options that provide a better quality of life.

Unfortunately, this also means that they may be leaving behind their support systems, including close family members and healthcare facilities, in urban areas.

This creates a challenge for urban centers where an aging population is being replaced by a younger generation, which can lead to an economic shift in that area.

Rent Increases Across Major Cities

Across many major cities in the United States, rent increases have become an unfortunate reality of urban living. Recent data shows that in 2021, the national average rent increased by 1.2%, with many cities seeing even higher hikes.

This trend is especially concerning for working-class families and young professionals who struggle to keep up with the rising cost of living.

So, what’s behind these increases? One of the primary factors is population growth. The urbanization trend of the past decade has led to more and more people moving to major cities for:

  • culture
  • entertainment
  • work

This demand for urban living spaces has put pressure on the housing supply, making it difficult to find an affordable place to live.

Another factor contributing to increasing rent prices is the limited supply of affordable housing. New construction projects tend to focus on luxury apartments, while affordable options are often neglected. As a result, many working-class families and young professionals are left with few rental options.

Some cities are more expensive than others, with San Francisco, New York, and Boston leading the pack. In these cities, the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment can easily top $3000 per month. On the other hand, there are more affordable alternatives like San Antonio, Phoenix, and Jacksonville. In these cities, the same apartment can rent for $1200 or less.

The impact of rent increases on people’s lives can be significant, especially for those living on a tight budget. High housing costs can force people to make difficult choices between rent, food, healthcare, and other necessities.

Young professionals may be unable to save for down payments or invest in their future, making it difficult to buy a home or build wealth.

One strategy is to look for rental units outside of city centers or explore more affordable neighborhoods. People can also consider taking advantage of available housing programs, like low-income subsidies, to reduce their housing expenses.

Urban Centers

Urban centers, also known as metropolitan areas, are home to the majority of the U.S. population and serve as hubs of economic activity.

They offer access to jobs, transportation, and entertainment, making them attractive to many young professionals and families.

However, the high cost of living in urban centers, especially in major cities like San Francisco or New York, can make it difficult for lower-income individuals to find affordable housing or build wealth. As a result, many people are leaving urban centers for more affordable options.

Economic Migration to Suburbs and Rural Areas

Economic migration is driving more and more Americans out of urban centers and into suburbs and rural areas. This trend is being fueled by a number of factors, including:

  • declining quality of life in cities
  • population growth
  • unaffordable housing

One of the primary factors driving this trend is the skyrocketing cost of housing in major cities. In many urban centers, the median home price has reached levels that are simply out of reach for most Americans. This has forced many people to look to the suburbs and rural areas for more affordable options.

Another factor contributing to this trend is the rapid population growth seen in many major cities. As more and more people flock to urban centers in search of work and entertainment, the demand for housing has gone up, driving prices even higher.

This has made it increasingly difficult for many people to afford to live in cities, leading them to look for alternatives in the suburbs and rural areas.

The declining quality of life in many urban centers is also driving people away. As cities become more crowded, noisy, and polluted, many people are looking for quieter, more peaceful places to live.

Suburbs and rural areas can offer a respite from the stress and chaos of city life, making them appealing options for many Americans.

Interestingly, the rise of remote work opportunities has also played a role in this trend. As more companies allow their employees to work from home, it has become easier for people to move to less expensive areas without sacrificing their jobs or careers.

This has made it possible for many people to enjoy the advantages of suburban or rural living while still maintaining their professional lives.


people using packing tape to seal cardboard box


Aging Population in Major Cities

The aging population in major cities is a significant factor contributing to the trend of people fleeing urban centers.

As the baby boomer generation reaches retirement age and beyond, cities are seeing a demographic shift that is impacting housing availability and affordability.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of people over the age of 65 in the United States is expected to nearly double by 2060, with many choosing to retire in major cities.

This trend is putting a strain on housing availability and driving up costs, making it increasingly difficult for younger generations to find affordable housing in urban centers.

Cities are responding to this issue with a variety of programs and policies aimed at increasing housing availability and affordability for seniors while also addressing the needs of younger generations.

Some cities are turning to strategies like mixed-use developments that combine residential and commercial spaces, allowing seniors to live closer to essential services like grocery stores and medical facilities.

Others are exploring zoning changes that allow for the construction of more affordable housing units or incentivizing developers to build senior-friendly housing options.

Cities are looking for ways to help seniors age in place by providing more support services like transportation, wellness programs, and social activities.

This can help seniors maintain their independence while also easing the burden on caregivers and reducing healthcare costs.


[1] U.S. Migration Patterns Before and After the Start of the Covid-19 Pandemic – Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. (2022, July 7). U.S. Migration Patterns Before And After The Start of The Covid-19 Pandemic – Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

[2] Existing-Home Sales. (2017, May 16).

[3] In Today’s Housing Market, Renters Have More Financial Incentive to Migrate to More Affordable Metros than Homeowners. (n.d.). In Today’s Housing Market, Renters Have More Financial Incentive to Migrate to More Affordable Metros Than Homeowners – Freddie Mac.

[4] In Pursuit of Affordable Housing: The Migration of Homebuyers within the U.S.—Before and After the Pandemic. (n.d.). In Pursuit of Affordable Housing: The Migration of Homebuyers Within the U.S.—Before and After the Pandemic – Freddie Mac.