The Northeast is home to the country’s largest megalopolis, which includes some of the US’s most important economic and cultural centers. A demographic trend that has characterized the Northeastern US in recent years is that of smaller metropolitan areas gaining residents through relocation, thanks in part to their affordability and suburban benefits. Meanwhile, the region’s larger metros are losing out in metro-to-subway migration. Using the latest inter-subway data from the US Census Bureau, we wanted to see which subways in the region are growing fastest through subway-to-subway migration.

Currently, nationwide subway-to-subway migration trends are favored in select areas of the Sun Belt that attract residents from both coasts. However, there are other population centers that attract movers in all regions. So, using data released by the US Census Bureau, we wanted to highlight which northeastern subways gain the most residents from subway-to-subway migration.

Overall, our study found that smaller metro areas that anchored one of the Northeast’s largest metros were the biggest winners in metro-to-subway migration trends. Such commuter towns and suburban areas draw residents to the densely populated subways of which they are a satellite, thanks to their lower cost of living and commute. Of the northeastern subways that get the most residents from other metro areas, Providence, RI, is the largest with 1.67 million residents as of 2020. The rest all had fewer than 1 million residents, highlighting the region’s smaller subways as hotspots for relocations.

In addition, the northeast subways on our list get their influx of moves primarily from the major subways in their area and from smaller subways in the same state — unlike national migration trends where the fastest-growing subways pull movers from different subways in different regions of the world. The United States

#1 – Harrisburg, PA

Harrisburg, the first of four Pennsylvania subways to make the list, was one step ahead of the competition by gaining net population in exchanges with other subways in the state. Notably, the more than 2,000 annual net residents extracted from Philadelphia contributed greatly to Harrisburg’s annual population growth of 7,118 through immigration—although the subway’s growth did not primarily depend on a single population source, such as the case is with some of the following entries .

As the capital of the state of Pennsylvania, the subway is attractive to future residents thanks to the job opportunities in the state and federal government. But other industries that use office space in Harrisburg have also seen significant growth amid subway pressure toward a more diversified economy.

#2 – Providence, RI

The largest metro area on our list and the most populous in Rhode Island, Providence reached #2, thanks to its 7,039 annual residents beating other metros.

Historically, Providence’s economic background has been manufacturing, but it has since turned into a college town, and there is also a growing demand for office space in Providence. As a result, the city has a steady flow of well-trained young professionals to meet the labor demand generated by the metro’s robust healthcare, biomedical and engineering industries.

Here, the primary source of the influx of relocations is Boston, although New York City and neighboring Worcester, Massachusetts, also supply the subway with newcomers.

#3 – Manchester, NH

The number 3 spot was taken by another satellite of the Boston subway: Manchester, NH Manchester’s population influx shows trends similar to Providence, RI – a steady supply of Bostonians looking to move to the suburbs, coupled with a stream residents of other subways, such as NYC and Worcester, Mass. The metro will have an average population of 5,429 each year – or about 1.3% of the total population in 2020.

Manchester is particularly attractive to movers because of its affordability, especially when compared to the undergrounds from which it gets residents. The metro’s business climate is another of the main reasons for its growth.

#4 – Springfield, MA

About 100 miles southwest of Manchester, Springfield, Massachusetts also benefited from its proximity to Boston, reaching #4 with 4,149 residents gained per year through immigration.

Springfield has similar advantages to the New England entries with its distinctive suburban feel and great affordability. However, the metro is also excellent for walking and cycling. In addition, its historic spirit for innovation – earning it the nickname ‘the city of firsts’ – is evident in the ongoing revitalization of the local economy and public spaces.

#5 – Allentown, Pennsylvania

With earnings of 3,640 net residents per year, Allentown, Penn., ranked fifth on our list. Allentown is about 100 miles west of New York City – which is also the main source of movers, making up for the net population the subway loses to nearby Philadelphia.

In addition to its convenient location between NYC and Philly, Allentown’s strengths include a thriving service sector around the Center City neighborhood, as well as its picturesque—yet relatively affordable—Victorian mansions.

#6 – Scranton, PA

Keeping up with the Pennsylvania theme of affordability, Scranton is our 6e entry in the top 10 northeastern subways gaining residents through immigration. Located north along I-476 from Allentown, Penn., Scranton won residents from the previous entry, as well as from Philadelphia and New York City.

Here, the historic manufacturing industry still plays a major role in the city’s economy, although healthcare and other service-sector jobs are also available to residents who want to take advantage of the metro affordability and small-town atmosphere. Scranton is also experiencing a cultural boom, with younger residents being drawn to the city’s walkable downtown area, which is home to a growing number of venues and events.

#7 – Albany, NY

As the capital of the state of New York, Albany received about 2,000 inhabitants per year through immigration, the main contributor of which was the main economic center of the Northeast – New York City.

As a city steeped in history, Albany is characterized by a blend of tradition and innovation. The metro’s higher education institutions in particular are highly sought after, and the culture and nightlife are anything but stale. This — coupled with affordability and the growth of high-value industries that utilize Albany office space, such as technology, finance, and logistics — likely make the subway one of the possible destinations for New Yorkers looking to relocate.

#8 – Reading, PA

With 1,680 net residents gained per year, Reading, Penn., was an outlier on our list for winning residents of more distant subways — like New York City and Pittsburgh, Penn. — while also staying close to equal or losing residents in population exchanges with nearby, in-state subways like Philadelphia, Allentown, and Harrisburg.

A popular hiking and biking destination thanks to its 125 miles of trails, Reading also attracts residents for its affordability – which is especially noticeable in terms of housing costs – and employment opportunities in manufacturing and healthcare.

#9 – Binghamton, NY

At #9, Binghamton, NY averaged 1,176 residents per year from other subways, with the vast majority of newcomers coming from New York City. With access to I-81, I-88, I-86, and several state routes, Binghamton is a major logistics hub that promises peace and quiet in the suburbs.

In addition, the innovative spirit of the metro is evident in the robust high-tech sector which, alongside Binghamton University, one of the foremost research universities in the Northeast, provides employment and journeys to the metro.

#10 – Burlington, Virginia

The list ended with Burlington, Vt. — Green Mountain State’s only entry in the top 10 — with an annual population increase of 1,159 subway-to-subway migration.

A picturesque college town with classic architecture and a vibrant downtown, Burlington draws residents from all over the East Coast, with Boston, NYC and Washington, DC as the top three sources of inbound relocations. The subway is also mindful of the environment, as the city of Burlington was one of the first in the US to get all of its electricity from renewable sources.

What Subway-to-Subway Migration Trends Mean for New York, Philadelphia and Boston

While the aforementioned subways continued to gain population, the major subways in the northeast continued to lose population to destinations in Florida and other areas further south, as well as to the subways in our top 10. In this way, the absence of the major subways emphasizes of the Northeast, the region as an outlier in metro-to-metro migration trends, as the metros that have the most population nationally are generally medium-sized or large, with more than 1 million inhabitants.

Meanwhile, New York City, Philadelphia and Boston are losing net residents to select subways in the Sun Belt or more affordable areas in their respective states. As a result, New York City loses nearly 240,000 net residents a year due to subway-to-subway migration, while Boston and Philadelphia also lose 25,000 and 21,000 a year, respectively.

Still, it should be noted that the number of net residents lost to other subways through the Northwest’s largest metropolitan centers is relatively small compared to their total population – 1.2% in the case of NYC, 0.5% for Boston and 0.3% for Philadelphia. Additionally, these subways are experiencing overall population growth due to other factors such as birth rate and relocations from outside the US

Overall, the entries in our top 10 highlight a trend of citizens already living in the Northeast moving to more affordable suburbs, either in the same region or in other parts of the country. And while the effects of subway-to-subway migration alone may seem small, they could potentially exacerbate long-term demographic shifts in the Northeast and the US as a whole.

Methodology

  • We looked at migration between metropolitan statistical areas in the United States, as determined by the US Census Bureau, with the 10 subways in the northeast of the US getting the most population per year in this way. For clarity and brevity, we have used the usual metro names instead of the official census names for the metro areas.
  • The annual net population increase is calculated by subtracting the number of inhabitants lost to other metros between 2015 and 2019 from the number of inhabitants gained from other metros between 2015 and 2019.
  • The percentage growth in the number of inhabitants due to immigration has been calculated based on the population figures of 2020.
  • Metro to metro migration estimates for 2015-2019 were released by the US Census Bureau in September 2021.
  • Non-internal migration, as well as migration to or from places that are not part of a metropolitan area, were excluded.
  • For each of the top 10 metros, the top three sources for metro migration and the top three destinations for metro migration were highlighted.

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