On the Move

Population fluctuations throughout the year are hallmarks of Cape Cod’s popularity as a seasonal and second home destination. What is the pattern of arrivals and departures? United States Postal Service (USPS) change of address data can provide us with insight into this inflow and outflow and how patterns were impacted during the pandemic. 

USPS data includes requests for both permanent and temporary changes of address for residents and businesses. The vast majority of requests in Barnstable County are residential so numbers serve as a reasonable proxy for population inflow and outflow patterns. The number of individuals represented in USPS change of address data is not captured. In most cases, a residential change represents a household, not necessarily an individual, so the exact number of people is unknown. Additionally, some changes may be to and from addresses within Barnstable County. Overall, more requests for permanent address changes into an area than out points to an increase in full-time residents.   

Pandemic Impacts 

In the year before the pandemic, there were slightly more requests for permanent address changes leaving the County, potentially indicating a small net loss of residents. At the onset of the pandemic, the Cape became a desirable escape, driving an influx of people to the region. In 2020, change of address requests increased by nearly 3,000 over 2019 for moves into the county. Requests out remained relatively stable, resulting in a net increase of over 2,600 households. 

By 2021, permanent requests into the county remained higher than departures, but returned to 2019 levels (20,580 in 2021 compared to 20,756 in 2019), resulting in a modest net positive of just over 230. By 2022, as interest rates were rising and the housing market tightened, requests were down both for moving in and out. Ultimately, in 2022 requests leaving outpaced those moving in by over 900, again potentially pointing to a decrease in households.  

Subregional Shifts 

The story varies by subregion and town across the Cape. While all areas saw more people moving in than out in 2020, only in the Upper Cape was that true for all four years. The net difference for moves in versus moves out in 2020 was significantly greater than in 2019, 2021, and 2022 as people flocked to the region in the early days of the pandemic. But, even prior to the pandemic and more recently, the Upper Cape continued to experience more requests for people moving in than out.  

The Outer Cape shows an opposite picture with more moves out than in for all years except 2020. In 2019, requests leaving outnumbered requests coming in by over 300; in 2022 it was closer to 500.  

Seasonal Shifts 

Change of address data also tell us the story of the region’s seasonal population. Temporary changes in address refer to requests in effect for 15 days to 1 year and may include people staying at second homes or with friends and family. Rather than being a proxy for a change in resident population, the requests for temporary changes of address can show the shifts in temporary residents in the region—when they are typically arriving and leaving.  

Across all four years, May and June saw the greatest numbers of temporary requests into the region, likely representative of people coming to the Cape for the warmer months, with May exceeding June every year except for 2020. Temporary out requests begin to ramp up in September, typically peaking in October, as people leave for warmer climates during the winter months. This exodus continues through January and begins to wane in February.  

This general temporal pattern was not disrupted by the pandemic. The number of requests for temporary relocations to the region did, however, increase nearly 40% in 2020 compared to the previous year while temporary relocations outside of the county remained relatively stable.  

While the patterns shown by this data are not surprising, it allows us to better understand the magnitude of the temporary and permanent population shifts the region experiences, and how the pandemic intensified or altered some of these patterns.  

Explore more at the dashboard: https://datacapecod.org/pf/address-changes/