Furthermore, countries that signal significant investments in improving health care moving forward will attract mobile millennials and Gen-Zers who are looking for places that will ensure their well-being as they get older. But that might not always work: Even if Italy, Iran, Brazil and other countries whose municipal and federal governments have been overwhelmed by the virus seize upon public health as a national priority in the coming years, it’s a safe bet that Italians, Iranians, Brazilians and others who lived through similar chaos will still try harder to emigrate.
It is also worth exploring whether countries with low population density and less intensive participation in global supply chains are safer places to live. The areas at roughly 27 degrees latitude have the highest concentration of the world population, and thus are inherently more vulnerable to pandemics than less dense latitudes. By contrast, countries north of 50 degrees latitude—such as Canada—have a relatively low infection rate. Russia, though, which shares Canada’s latitude, has recently seen a spike in Covid infections and now ranks fourth in Europe in total cases.
In the Southern Hemisphere, New Zealand has a very low infection rate, and has the added virtue of being able to cut itself off with relative ease. But whereas New Zealand is hard to reach, Canada, which has an enviably effective health care system, has become an immigration superpower. In 2018, its net immigration was 350,000, higher than America’s 250,000 even though Canada has 1/10 the U.S. population. About 1 million Americans already live in Canada, with numbers ticking up since Trump’s election. In the years ahead, more Yanks may head north and become Canucks or move even further abroad. As one real estate executive mused on a webinar, “My job is selling U.S. properties to foreigners, but I’d be better off selling properties overseas to Americans.”
Health care isn’t the only factor that will motivate our next moves. Cost of living is a decisive issue as well. For youth, especially, the coronavirus economic shock is proving far more devastating than even the financial crisis. A decade ago, baby boomers and Gen-Xers who were foreclosed upon in the Northeast and Rust Belt migrated to the Sun Belt, many resettling in cheaper states and some becoming homeless. Looking ahead, millennials and Gen-Z—most of whom work in the gig economy—can’t afford to stay in place waiting for “the economy to reopen,” especially when they know that far fewer jobs are likely to be created than hoped. Indeed, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago—America’s three largest metro areas—have been losing people for nearly a decade. Some of the outflow has been backfilled by new arrivals, but not enough to keep population levels in those cities from dropping. A new inflow of arrivals into our most expensive cities is far less likely today, with unemployment potentially hovering at 20 percent for the foreseeable future and immigration grinding to a halt. Populations in America’s largest and most expensive cities could plunge.