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Workforce trends: Americans migrate to rural areas from cities with remote work

remote work
(© Marina Andrejchenko – stock.adobe.com)

Remote work is here to stay in the United States workforce as Americans find housing in rural areas and migrate from cities.

Hamilton Lombard, a demographer for UVA’s Weldon Cooper Center, said remote work was first thought of in the 1980s. So when the COVID-19 pandemic made it necessary, demographers were not surprised.

“Remote work is something that a lot of demographers were getting into in the late 2010s,” Lombard said.

Demographers produce data products on populations, which is often used in state funding and for planning purposes. Lombard, who has been a demographer since 2010, calculates projected school enrollments every year, which are then funded by the state. He gives presentations to the public and government officials on data collection and interpretation.

By 2020, Lombard said as many individuals were in remote work as in manufacturing in the United States and demographers “really thought it was noteworthy.”

Remote work became an idea in the 1970s and 1980s as more Americans were working in offices, not in factories. The work they were doing could be done at home as much as in an office environment.

“People were expecting this for a long time,” Lombard said of remote work.

In 2019, in Nelson County, one in eight residents were working remotely. Despite the “back to the office” trend, the statistic has not changed since 2021.

In fact, according to Lombard, remote workers are migrating from cities to rural areas.

Since 2020, Americans under age 45 have begun moving to Appalachia.

For demographers, trends are not considered trends until they last for more than two years, for at least three years. A shift in remote work was seen in 2023, including more online shopping and more children being homeschooled.

One in eight Americans works completely remote, Lombard said, and do not report to an office.

While the future of remote work is undeniable, questions remain and to capture data about the future is difficult. However, student enrollment data for Highland County indicates an increase of the highest seen yet and remote workers are expected to continue migrating to rural areas for more affordable housing options.

Remote work may see a decrease, but, Lombard said, if it remains at 10 percent of the American workforce, it will still be double what it was before COVID-19. He expects remote work will fall to 20 percent.

As of now in 2024, 25 percent of all American workers are hybrid or completely working remote.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.