New York City has regained roughly three-quarters of the population that fled during the first year of the pandemic, the latest signal that the return of in-person activities has jumpstarted the region's recovery.
Since July, the city has registered a net gain of move-ins compared to 2019 levels, a first since the start of the pandemic, according to a new analysis by City Comptroller Scott Stringer. The increase has been fueled by an influx of people to wealthier neighborhoods whose residents fled during the height of the health crisis.
The findings are based on change of address data filed with the U.S. Postal Service, a measure of those who request mail forwarding that leaves out wide swaths of the city, including individuals moving from abroad. But experts say the data, while limited, offers a useful status update on the dramatic population swings that have impacted the city over the last two years.
Andy Beveridge, a Queens College professor and longtime demographic expert, ran his own calculations based on the change of address data. He found that in 2020, there were an estimated 33,000 more move-outs registered within the five boroughs than the baseline average. That trend reversed in 2021, with roughly 23,000 more move-ins than were expected.
"That suggests they've recouped as much as three-quarters of the population," Beveridge said. “It's a straw in the wind that things are starting to go back to normal.”
Although out-migration increased in every borough during the first year of the pandemic, it was the wealthiest parts of New York — including Battery Park City/Greenwich Village, Murray Hill/Gramercy, and the Upper East Side — that saw the highest per-capita rates of residential out-migration.
Meanwhile, the three zip codes with the largest proportional gains in residents during that time were all located in the Hamptons. Outside of New York, the largest per-capita net gains were found in less densely populated states such as Vermont and Maine.
As the city’s public schools reopen and some employees are called back to work, a portion of those who fled appear to be returning.
Between June and September, a total of 14 city neighborhoods outperformed pre-pandemic move-out totals, with the highest net gains seen in Chelsea/Midtown, Murray Hill/Gramercy, Battery Park City/Greenwich Village, Chinatown/Lower East Side, and the Upper East Side.
The influx of residents has sparked rental bidding wars and surging prices in certain sought-after neighborhoods. But New York is still down residents as a result of the pandemic — with no guarantee that the current trend lines won’t change.
Many workers are still remote, subway ridership levels on the subway are still close to half of what they were pre-pandemic, and coronavirus infections are beginning to rise.
“We know that New York is no longer hemorrhaging people,” added Beveridge, the demographer. “It’s really a question of what’s temporary and what’s permanent.”