Remote Work is Driving a Population Shift, But Not to the Midwest

FSD Staff


When people talk about the United States, and they mention the Midwest region, they often mean Illinois, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Missouri. They might also mean North Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana, Iowa, and Kansas.

These states are America’s heartland, and they get a lot of attention during presidential election season. Every four years, presidential hopefuls fall all over themselves trying to establish their Midwestern roots, even if they’re not from any of those states and seldom visit them.

Lately, though, some pundits have been talking about the Midwest a lot, and for a different reason. Remote work is creating a population shift that’s very evident in some parts of the country. The Midwest seems nearly exempt, and it’s interesting to speculate about why that might be.

Will Remote Workers Move to the Midwest?

The Midwest is a region that has its dangers. For instance, drunk driving kills 30 people in the US daily, many of them in the states we mentioned.

However, many people in the Midwest wouldn’t want to leave for any reason. They were born there, and they will more than likely live their whole lives there.

That does not mean there may not be an influx of people from other regions moving there, and some experts speculate that remote work might drive that. They feel that because remote work is becoming prevalent, some individuals and families won’t feel tied down to one particular state or city.

If you have people who are no longer tethered to a desk in a big city, they might pick up stakes and move to rural Ohio or Indiana. The cheaper cost of living might attract them. In the early going of this remote work revolution, though, that’s not something we’re seeing at all.

Why Are Remote Workers Shunning This Part of the Country?

It’s interesting to speculate that remote workers who now have nothing tying them down might move to smaller cities and towns in America’s heartland. They could revitalize those areas, especially the economically depressed ones. The cash infusion these new residents could provide might save struggling towns dealing with poverty, crime, and drug issues.

People don’t seem to be moving from coastal cities to the Midwest, though, and politics might be the reason. If you have an individual or family from a solidly blue state or region, and they’re looking for a new place to live, they’re not likely to go to a state that voted red in the 2016 or the 2020 presidential election cycle.

Instead, what we’re seeing right now, at least in the first days of this new era, is that these professionals who are doing remote work are headed to the suburbs. They’re sticking mainly to the coasts instead of venturing into the Midwest. They’re just moving away from more populated city centers and into the outlying areas.

This does make sense if you consider that a house in a major city will probably be more expensive than a suburban one. If these newly minted remote workers can stay in an area that appeals to them politically and they can find cheaper housing not far away from their previous residences, why wouldn’t they do that?

Why Remote Work Matters

Even if the Midwest states are not the primary beneficiaries when more people start working remotely, this new way of life might still have all kinds of lasting impacts. For example, many transportation experts speculate that if more people can work remotely, fewer of them will need to drive to their jobs. That means fewer greenhouse gas emissions, which is important from an environmental standpoint.

Also, if women can work remotely, they may not have to leave the workforce while raising their children. Some women feel confident now that they can do both much more effectively than they otherwise could.

Is There Any Hope for the Midwest?

Remote work is only now exploding in popularity, and there is no telling what might happen with it in the near future. Still, for now, some Midwestern states that would have liked to see an influx of new arrivals to revitalize their stagnant economies can’t help but feel disappointed that doesn’t seem to be happening, at least not yet.

These individuals and families on the move right now are often younger, and they frequently have techie skills. Wherever they go, they will bring their high-paying jobs with them, as well as their youthful energy.

In Midwestern states that are struggling economically, missing out on this influx can be a death knell. If you have someone with a high-paying job who is now working remotely, they’re a lot more likely to move from New York City to suburban New Jersey than to Wichita or Columbus. These individuals don’t seem to want to stray into the heartland, where they feel like they will be at political odds with their neighbors.

It could be that at some point, suburban living costs in blue states will start forcing remote workers further afield to find affordable housing. That could be the time when we begin to see individuals and families, mainly from the coasts, moving inland to revitalize the Midwest.

They will undoubtedly look at themselves as intrepid explorers, but it could be years till we start to see that. In the meantime, not many of them seem inclined to move to states where they know they will seem like outsiders because of their political beliefs.

The only exceptions might be individuals or families who already have relatives living in the Midwest with whom they get along. Being close to their loved ones might be what it takes to make such a drastic move.

Remember, though, that these are remote work’s early days, and it’s very tough to predict what is going to happen. It may very well be that at some point, Midwestern residents might wake up to find individuals with contrasting political views moving in right next door to them.

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