More than 4,800 people moved to Vermont between 2020 and 2021, the highest net migration total the state has reported in at least a decade, according to U.S. Census Bureau population estimates.
The trend represents a complete reversal of the previous decade, when domestic migration meant people left Vermont to move to other states, while most migrants to Vermont came from outside the country.
Instead, about 4,500 of the state’s new arrivals in the past two years came from other areas of the U.S. while 275 people came from other countries.
Peter Nelson, a professor of geography at Middlebury College, said the trend was “wildly unusual.”
He studied cellphone data from the early days of the pandemic that suggested people were moving to rural New England during that period. But the Census Bureau’s data was an important confirmation of the trend.
“It's real,” he said. “It wasn't just a few anecdotes that appeared in the news media, but there’s been a migration of four or five thousand people (to Vermont).”
Questions remain about the significance of the migration, including how many people were “fresh” migrants rather than second homeowners making a more long-term jump to Vermont. Greta Brunswick, a regional planner at the Northwest Regional Planning Commission, said it’s “something that we're still trying to understand.”
“It does seem to indicate that there is some new mobility into the region,” she said. “But I want to peel back the layer a bit to really see what other data points can help us understand what that means.”
Another question is whether those 4,800 people are here to stay. A reduction of remote work — or of interest in the Vermont lifestyle — could send new residents back to the places they came from.
But Nelson said that workers may have more choice about remote work going into the future. For every company telling workers to come back to the office, he said, “there's just as many firms who have said, ‘actually, you know, we were able to get our work done with these different kinds of work arrangements,’” he said.
“Some people are gonna say, ‘I really want that social element of work. I liked going to the office,’” forcing them into close proximity to their job, while other employees might say, “‘Actually, I really want to be able to go mountain biking at lunchtime,’” he said.
Vermont, New England’s smallest state with a population of 645,000, is not the only one in the region to report an influx of out-of-staters during the pandemic.
Maine and New Hampshire, each with a population of about 1.4 million, both gained around 15,000 new residents, compared to around 6,000 or 7,000 in the year prior to the pandemic. Just comparing 2019 to 2021’s net migration shows dramatic changes in how people moved around New England states.