As disruptive as the last three years have been for the senior living industry, the Covid-19 pandemic does not appear to have substantially changed where older adults move or the rate at which they do so.
That’s according to a new American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA) brief released this month that examined data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
Among the brief’s biggest takeaways is that while the pandemic seems to have had an effect on U.S. migration trends and patterns early in 2020, those effects have not led to big changes in migration trends on the whole. Migration rates among all people in the U.S. have trended down since the mid-80s, and according to the data that trend has continued relatively unchanged into the pandemic.
For longstanding senior living operators and industry watchers, all of this likely comes as little surprise, according to study author and Rockwood Pacific Co-Founder and President Frank Rockwood.
“It doesn’t look like the world has completely changed from a pre-pandemic to a post-pandemic perspective,” Rockwood told Senior Housing News. “All of the information is not in, but it’s looking like the pandemic hasn’t fundamentally altered the trajectory of where things are going.”
As has been the case for many years, older adults are by and large still moving away from New York, California and Illinois in relatively large numbers; and moving to Florida, Texas and the Carolinas.
In the years since the Great Recession, Florida has consistently attracted people of all age groups who moved in the past year, particularly among seniors aged 75 and older. New York and California are at the opposite end of that spectrum, in part because of their high cost of living.
“For an operator, both near-term migration … and longer-term migration, what’s happened in the past, is a super critical driver of where you want to be in business,” Rockwood said.
For senior living operators, one notable trend hidden in the data is that older adults typically see an uptick in migration once they reach their mid-80s.
While the migration rate of adults between the ages of 65 and 74 was 2.8% in 2021, according to the data; that rate ticked down to 2.1% among adults 75 to 84 years old. For people aged 85 and above, migration rates ticked back up to 2.8%.
Net migration trends can also mask otherwise unseen patterns. For example, while it is a top state for moving older adults, Florida also had more older adults leave the state than any other state, according to the report. On the other hand, California has the second-highest number of older adults moving in than any other states.
And operators should be careful not to discount markets just because they are net exporters of older adults, Rockwood cautioned. The reason why they are leaving may just be as important — or even more so — than the rate by which they are leaving.
“If people are leaving a place regularly because it’s just not attractive anymore economically, that’s probably not where I want to be investing,” he said. “But if people are leaving because they just can’t afford it and the bar keeps getting higher and higher, there’s probably a niche there.”