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Working Remotely Allows Millions To Pick Where They Want To Live

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It is just amazing - isn't it? - to pause and think about how much life has changed this year. The pandemic has restricted almost all aspects of what we do. Then again, there are some lucky people who have been given newfound freedoms. If you've been able to keep your job and been allowed to work wherever you like, maybe you, like others, have considered moving to another part of the country. Adedayo Akala reports.

ADEDAYO AKALA, BYLINE: As the pandemic dragged on, Chandra Prater and her husband decided they didn't want to live like this anymore. It had been punishingly hot where they lived outside of Los Angeles that kept them stuck in the house even more. So they and their daughter, five cats and their dog took a leap a thousand miles north to Olympia, Wash.

CHANDRA PRATER: When we saw the house for the inspection, my daughter was so excited that she just started crying. And she's not normally a very sentimental person.

AKALA: Prater's daughter is 10, and she'd been having a really tough time with the isolation in California. Prater says her daughter became so depressed she wouldn't eat or get out of bed.

PRATER: And it was completely heartbreaking.

AKALA: Since the move, she's noticed a huge difference in her daughter's energy. The duck likes the rain, and Prater's daughter apparently does, too.

PRATER: She loves being able to be in nature. One of the first times it rained after we moved here, she just went out in stretch pants and a T-shirt to play in the rain - because she didn't even have any jackets yet - just because it was so nice to be able to do it.

AKALA: Sometimes, change is a good thing. About 20 million Americans say they plan on moving to a different region since they can work from home. That's according to a study by Upwork, a freelancing platform. Adam Ozimek, chief economist at Upwork, says in the years before the pandemic, people were moving less.

ADAM OZIMEK: I think remote work has the potential to boost economies of a lot of lower cost of living places. So that includes rural areas and smaller cities. These are places that on average have been losing population for a while.

AKALA: But with more people working remotely, these places start to look a lot better.

OZIMEK: You compare the cost of living differences between these places, they're just, you know, so massive between the most expensive places in the rest of the country that, you know, both businesses and workers can be better off.

AKALA: This is true for Jason King, who started going a bit stir crazy in his loft in the arts district in Los Angeles. He needed more space, so he started looking for a house.

JASON KING: Houses were, like, a million, million and a half. In that area, there are fixer-uppers for $900,000. And I'm just like, I'm not going to go $900,000 into debt for a fixer-upper.

AKALA: King is a global director at an architectural firm. Since he traveled the majority of the time and heard his company would probably never go back to having employees in the office five days a week, he got in his car and started checking out areas further away.

KING: I stopped in Wrightwood, which is only 70 miles from LA and, like, an hour and 10-minute drive. I paid $390,000 for my house.

AKALA: King got double the space for a quarter of the price. There's a debate about whether companies will continue to embrace remote work after the pandemic. All we know for right now is a growing number of people are living in a place they wouldn't have been a year ago and say they're glad they made the move. So we could be watching the start of a great migration. For NPR News, I'm Adedayo Akala.

(SOUNDBITE OF EMANCIPATOR'S "RAPPAHANNOCK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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