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As remote work explodes, workers flock to second cities

(BIG DATA) As remote working becomes more normalized, workers are choosing where they want to live, so second cities are changing the landscape.

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Over the summer I had to move out of the SF Bay, my home and a famously high-rent hotspot. Life there had never been cheap, but the economic crash at the start of the year had made it nearly impossible to stay. (Not to mention the yearly wildfires were pretty inconvenient.)

It’s strange to admit, but going to a suburb on the other side of the country was easier than trying to continue living in my home city.

I’m not alone in feeling that way. Plenty of other workers in the digital sector are making the same choice, leading to the emergence of ”second cities” where predominantly white-collar workers have been moving to comfortably work from home.

Remote work has evolved from a once-privileged exception to practically being a hot business trend, and the merits have been widely embraced across industries where remote work is possible. In a study performed by UK employment firm Robert Walters, 86% of employers across 31 countries replied that they intend to keep their remote workforce in some capacity. In other words, the second city is here to stay.

Economics lecturer Michel Serafinelli suggested to The Guardian that cities will become less congested, high costs of living will begin to balance out, and skilled workers will be more widely distributed as a result of this transition.

Minnesota is one state that’s counting on these “second cities” to continue flourishing. By investing high speed broadband infrastructure, it hopes to attract wayward telecommuters to come live there and boost GDP.

So the flight from metropolis seems bound to continue, at least among certain workers. Based on 2018 statistics from the US Bureau of Labour, Black and Hispanic men in particular disproportionately work in the service sector, where just 1% of jobs can be performed remotely.

2020 has marked a major turning point for the US housing economy. In areas like New York, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, residents have protested unaffordable rent for decades. Yet gentrification has slowly but relentlessly escalated, driving costs-of-living sky high and displacing long-term local residents. California has actually been slowly losing residents to this process over the last four years, saying goodbye to just under 200,000 in 2018 alone according to MSNBC.

Bloomberg City Lab breaks it down like this: “From the Bay Area and Los Angeles, Phoenix and Las Vegas are typically the most popular destinations. And New Yorkers showed a tendency to move to Florida — a state that had 22,000 more users looking to move there in the third quarter than leave.”

The effect is so dramatic, it may have had an impact on this year’s election results.

In other words, these second cities aren’t exactly new. And if this year is any indication, they are only going to grow in influence in the future.

Desmond Meagley is an award-winning writer, graphic artist and cultural commentator in D.C. A proud YR Media alumn, Desmond's writing and illustrations have been featured in the SF Chronicle, HuffPost, Teen Vogue, The Daily Cal, and NPR among others. In their spare time, Desmond enjoys vegetarian cooking and vigorous bike rides.

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