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Safety Concerns Are Causing Americans to Move in Record Numbers

Young Asian family moving into a new apartment. Lovely little daughter helping her mother to pack / unpack belongings into cardboard box in the living room. Home moving, migration, relocation concept
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It’s not easy to get your life packed up and loaded onto a moving truck. The reasons for making such a drastic change are usually positive: buying your first house, starting a new job, or moving into a bigger home.

But as Americans have navigated the COVID-19 pandemic over the past few years, safety concerns have become a bigger priority for some movers.

Safety is top of mind for movers

In 2021, 6.0% of movers — or around 1,617,000 Americans — moved primarily because they “wanted a better neighborhood/less crime,” according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That was the highest percentage since the Census Bureau started asking the question in 1998.

Only 4.1% of movers cited crime as their primary reason in 2020, compared with 3.0% in 2019,  and 2.6% in 2018. Over the past 25 years, 3.9% of movers have relocated each year on average because of crime — considerably lower than the 6.0% in 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic added to safety concerns

While crime was already a growing factor for movers before the COVID-19 pandemic, one survey from the real estate brokerage company Redfin found that it played a substantial role in moves after March 2020.

Crime and safety was the most significant factor for homeowners, with half of respondents saying it impacted their decision “a lot” or was the “most important factor.” Cost of living and school quality tied for second, with 43% of respondents choosing each. 

The story was a little different for renters, who chose cost of living as the most critical factor. Still, safety was a close second, with 35% of renters saying it had a significant impact on their decision.

Redfin Chief Economist Daryl Fairweather also saw a potential tie to remote work during the pandemic.

“Cities historically have been able to attract residents looking for high paying jobs, but now that remote work is ubiquitous, some may have to work on improving safety and other quality of life factors to retain and attract residents,” he said. 

“This might be an uphill battle, because as wealthy residents leave, they take tax dollars with them, leaving cities with less resources to address safety concerns for remaining residents.”

Is crime actually on the rise?

While the pandemic may have pushed more people to move due to safety concerns, violent crime is actually down. In 2021, the most recent year with available data, there were 16.5 violent crimes for every 1,000 Americans ages 12 and older — the same as pre-pandemic rates. 

Violent crime has been steadily declining since the 90s, when it peaked about five times as high as it is today. Property crime has also decreased every year since 2001

That said, the most severe form of violent crime — murder — did increase by about 30% in 2020, which was the highest year-over-year increase since at least 1905.

There’s no question that the perception of crime is higher than ever, though. 56% of Americans reported an increase in crime where they lived in 2022 — the highest number since Gallup started the survey in 1972. In 2019, only 43% of Americans thought crime had increased in their area. 

Crime stats by city

Even if crime may be down nationally, there are still many cities where it’s on the rise. According to the real estate data firm NeighborhoodScout, these cities reported the highest violent crime rates in 2022: 

CityViolent crime rate (per 1,000 residents)Chance of being a victim
1. Monroe, LA29.41 in 34
2. Memphis, TN24.21 in 41
3. Saginaw, MI23.81 in 42
4. Detroit, MI22.61 in 44
5. St. Louis, MO20.01 in 50
6. Alexandria, LA18.81 in 53
7. Pine Bluff, AR18.11 in 55
8. Little Rock, AR18.11 in 55
9. Albany, GA17.71 in 56
10. South Bend, IN17.11 in 59
Source: NeighborhoodScout

The bottom line

Safety has been top of mind for homeowners over the past few years, even prompting many residents to pack up and move entirely. Finding a good home security system can be a worthwhile investment if you’re concerned about crime in your area. It’s also a good idea to learn about a potential neighborhood’s safety before you make a move.