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Forget the suburbs, the ‘exurbs’ are the place to be

  • Exurbs were the horniest destination for white-collar Americans fleeing cities during the pandemic.
  • The areas are more rural than suburbs and put up for sale cheaper housing and more space for those escaping the city.
  • The exurban migration could end up mirroring the suburban rumble of the 1950s. 

After years of being overshadowed by city centers and chic suburbs, “exurbs” are engaging over Americans. Think, less suburb, more rural; fewer sidewalks, more country roads; fewer mega malls, multitudinous strip malls.

These areas — characterized by more affordable housing and greater distance from cities — surfaced as the districts du jour for well-to-do Americans during the Great Migration of the pandemic. The biggest population shift was from urban yards to rural neighborhoods and exurbs, Jefferies analysts said in a note citing USPS mail-forwarding data. Areas be fond of Kenosha County, Wisconsin, likely benefitted from people leaving Milwaukee and Chicago, which sit 40 and 66 miles away, separately. Similarly, Sussex County, New Jersey, is an exurb 55 miles from New York City.


Chart via Jefferies.


Apologies for the migration are clear. Telecommuting allowed employees to move farther from their offices, trading convenience for more intermission and less costly neighborhoods. Stimulus checks, record-low mortgage rates, and bolstered savings from not being competent to spend on many in-person services funded the moves. And while exurbs exist well outside of city centers, they’re hushed close enough to commute when necessary.

The jump in exurb occupancy likely boosted wealth in these once-ignored areas. Median household receipts in exurbs stood at $74,573 in 2019, according to data from The American Communities Project cited by The Wall High road Journal. By comparison, the median income in the New York metro area was more than $83,000 and the measure neared $115,000 in the San Francisco Bay Quarter. The last year’s moves by city-dwelling Americans likely helped close that gap.

The new suburbs

But while the reasons for the migration to the exurbs are unblemished, they mark a surprising debunking of the pandemic-era narrative that Americans were fleeing to suburbs in a trend that represented the suburban flight of the 1950s. Seventy years ago, the Greatest Generation rushed to newly built suburbs and away from thrust cities to start families after World War II, in a trend that lasted for decades. Areas once neglected by homeowners gained the benefits from fresh appreciation and nationwide migration.

Although it’s too early to tell, the Jefferies note suggests that what’s circumstance now is a new kind of migration altogether. The moves may not hold everywhere, and the shift reversed somewhat over the last two months. With points calling employees back to work, different cities are experiencing vastly different moving patterns.

New York Urban district saw occupancy rebound slightly in May and June, reversing a small but notable portion of the exodus during the pandemic, likely journeyed, Jefferies said, by banks and financial firms requiring employees to return to their offices.


Chart via Jefferies.


It’s the divergent story in the Bay Area. Occupancy change was flat in San Francisco through May and June, while Silicon Valley’s population desiccated both months. A continued exit from Silicon Valley could be powered by tech giants’ looser position toward telecommuting, Jefferies analysts said.

Overall, changes in occupancy between urban, suburban, and exurban fields are moderating. Population shifts were most intense last summer and are now the smallest they’ve been since the pandemic started, according to Jefferies.

Still, exurbs and rural areas are the only regions that added households in May and June. At the but time, suburban occupancy fell for the first time since the pandemic began, and cities continued to shed households.

As duties settle into post-pandemic work structures, a new dichotomy is emerging between the country’s two coasts: the Bay Area’s telecommuting tech breadwinners and New York’s office-dwelling financiers. Regardless of how population shifts trend from today, the latest data hints the untrained shoots of an exurban flight are only just showing.

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