Young families are still fleeing major cities in huge numbers, a ‘big surprise’ for metros trying to escape the urban doom loop

A row of students ages 5-7 on a playground during recess at a public school in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City.

Families with young kids continue to flee major US cities, despite urban recovery post-pandemic.The population of children under five in New York City fell 18% from April 2020 to July 2023.Big urban counties have lost young kids at almost double the national rate, a new report found.

When the pandemic hit, young families fled cities across the US in droves. They moved to suburbs, exurbs, and rural areas in search of a more affordable, convenient life, driven in large part by housing costs.

As major US cities have rebounded from pandemic lockdowns, that trend has slowed, but families with young kids are still fleeing, a new report from the Economic Innovation Group found.

The report found that the population of children under five years old in New York City fell 18% between April 2020 and July 2023, while the number of young children fell by 15% in Chicago’s Cook County, 15% in San Francisco, and 14% in Los Angeles County in that same period.

On average, large urban counties had a 3.9% in the number of kids under five between 2020 and 2021, 2.2% between 2021 and 2022, and 1.5% between 2022 and 2023.

Big cities like New York have begun growing again since the pandemic, but those population gains are primarily due to a rise in immigrant residents and declining death rates, according to the report, which is based on US Census data published this month. Overall, domestic out-migration from big cities is still double the rate it was pre-pandemic.

“This stuck out as a big surprise to me,” EIG policy analyst Connor O’Brien, who authored the report, told Business Insider. “This data is three years out from the start of the pandemic, cities have started to recover robustly on a bunch of different measures.” But, he added, “Young families are just not coming back.”

This comes amid a general aging of the US population. The US birthrate is falling, and the population of young children nationwide has dropped 4.6% since the pandemic, the EIG report noted. The population of young kids fell in two-thirds of the nation’s counties since April 2020. In 2023 alone, the number of young kids fell in 58% of all counties.

But large urban counties have lost young kids at almost double the national average rate. Birth rates in big cities have also fallen at about double the rate of rural birth rates over the last ten years, EIG found.

All of this is pretty bad news for big cities, many of which are still struggling to fend off the so-called “urban doom loop” in downtowns emptied of workers and facing shrinking tax bases.

“Parents are opting out of living in big cities or deciding to still live there but have no kids,” O’Brien said. “I think that sends a pretty depressing message about the growth prospects of those cities going forward because at the end of the day, people vote with their feet.”

EIG’s analysis echoes other recent reports. Families with kids under six years old are more than twice as likely to leave New York City than families without young kids, the Fiscal Policy Institute found. Families with kids six or older moved out of the city at the same rates as childless families, suggesting that the costs “uniquely associated with young children — childcare and the need for more space” are pushing families to leave, FPI, a left-leaning think tank, argued.

O’Brien blames the exodus on a slew of factors, ranging from the popularity of remote and hybrid work to the surprisingly strong recent economic recovery of many exurban and rural areas.

The result? Some exurbs — particularly in the pro-development Sunbelt — are seeing young families flood in. Exurban counties like Polk County, Florida, which sits between Orlando and Tampa, and Montgomery County, Texas, which is outside Houston, are booming.

As Business Insider has previously reported, millennials aren’t just leaving the urban core — they’re moving to the farthest reaches of the suburbs. This phenomenon is perhaps a predictable result of the back-to-the-city movement they led over the last two decades. That surge in demand for housing and amenities has made many urban cores some of the most expensive places to live in the country.

For years, rising housing costs in cities have pushed even the most devoted young city dwellers to move to the exurbs and suburbs, where housing has generally been more abundant and affordable. And the pandemic only deepened that trend.

Have you moved your family out of a major US city? Reach out to this reporter at erelman@businessinsider.com to share your story.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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