Domestic Migration Trends in the U.S.

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Americans are on the move again. According to Forbes Magazine, almost 40 million Americans, roughly 14 percent of the entire population, move from one place to another in the country every single year. This migration pattern is again on the rise after a period of slower movement in the last decade. During the Recession of 2007 to 2009, fewer people were moving, but now that better economic conditions have returned, American are once packing up. The migration pattern is fueled by some of the same trends that have been in place for many years—specifically, young adults moving from rural areas to cities with better job opportunities, established workers following jobs to different regions, and older Americans moving toward regions with warmer climates and lower costs of living.

The Forbes Interactive Map

There are several general trends that can be spotted by careful examination of tools such as the interactive migration map from Forbes, and documented by a number of official sources. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Population Estimates Program, there remains a general migration from rural areas to urban cities, with cities in the warmer states of Florida, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Arizona seeing large increases.

Forbe's interactive map allows users to track migration number into and out of each county in the U.S., revealing where there are net increases or declines, and where those migrating residents are coming from and going to. Average income levels for current residents, incoming residents, and outgoing residents are also provided. It is possible to learn a lot about the economic conditions of a specific county. For example, a county where the outgoing residents have a substantially lower average income suggests that these people are moving in search of better economic conditions. A country where the incoming residents appear relatively affluent hints at a county with a vibrant economy with good opportunities, possibly in high-tech industries.

Note that the map has been updated and shows movement for each of five years from 2005 to 2010. If you click on a specific county, the map also shows you the number of people who migrated in and out and which type of movement is more dominant. There are also some quick data points that include population levels, the income of people moving out, people moving in and compares that to the people who are staying put. It's a fun map to play with and one that can help you determine how your county is doing and where people are coming from and to.

However, the Forbes interactive map was last updated in 2011, when the Great Recession had just concluded and the economy was in the process of recovering. In the years since this last update, it is possible that trends have shifted. Fortunately, there are other sources of information on the patterns of domestic migration in the U.S.

United Van Lines Survey

Limited but interesting data comes from a 2017 survey of about 110,000 families moved by the professional movers firm, United Van Lines. According to a simple written questionnaire, the states that the most people are moving from include Wisconsin (3,285), Utah (2,118), Kentucky (2,837), Ohio (6,684), Massachusetts (4,567), Kansas (2,370), Connecticut (2,866), New York (8,381), New Jersey (4,723), and Illinois (8,157).

The states most people are moving to, according to the same survey:

  1. Vermont
  2.  Oregon
  3. Idaho
  4. Nevada
  5. South Dakota
  6. Washington
  7. South Carolina
  8. North Carolina
  9. Colorado
  10. Alabama

The survey showed that in the Midwest, 59.9 percent of respondents were moving out of state to follow a new job or company transfer. Another 17.7 percent said they were leaving to move to retirement locations. Another 17.4 percent were leaving in order to be closer to family.

In the northeast, another area that sees a high number of outgoing residents, 46.4 percent were leaving to follow or find jobs. Northeasterners also sited retirement and family issues.

Here, too, there are limitations to the data, as movers who are hiring a professional moving company are likely higher income people who don't perfectly reflect general trends. Lower income people are likely moving, too, but their reasons for moving could be different, as well as their destinations.

U.S. Census Bureau Data

Perhaps the most accurate information on domestic migration behavior comes from the U.S. Census Bureau, which conducts analysis of its data on an ongoing basis. Data reports issued in 2016 to 2017 showed that the states that gained the most population did not always do so because of domestic migration. Factors such as immigration from foreign nations and domestic birth rates exceeding death rates can also play a role in net increases in population.

Domestic Migration and State Population Growth

From 2010 to 2017, The top ten states for gains due to domestic immigration include:

  • Florida: 1,025,261
  • Texas: 944,018
  • North Carolina: 327,631
  • Arizona: 278,290
  • Colorado: 276,485
  • South Carolina: 264,781
  • Washington: 249,052
  • Oregon; 181,252
  • Tennessee: 178,125
  • Georgia: 163,536

The top ten states for losses due to domestic migrations are:

  • New York: -1,022,071
  • Illinois; -642,821
  • California: -556,710
  • New Jersey: -395,160
  • Michigan: -225,302
  • Pennsylvania: -214,426
  • Ohio: -192,615
  • Connecticut: -153,276
  • Maryland: -112,092
  • Kansas: -83,158

Domestic Migration by Region

The South has dominated US population growth since 2010. Between 2010 and 2017:

  • The South added 9.1 million new residents. Domestic migration accounted for 2.7 million of this increase.
  • The West also grew, but more slowly at 5.5 million new residents. But domestic migration accounted for 600,000 of this increase.
  • The Northeast had 7 percent of the national growth, but 1.9 million left the region for elsewhere. The net increase was due to foreign migrants and a birth rate that exceeded death rate.
  • The Midwest logged 7 percent of the national population growth, but 1.3 million left the region for elsewhere. The net increase was due to foreign migrants and a birth rate that exceeded death rate.

Urban vs.Rural Population Trends

The movement of the population from rural areas to urban areas, which began in roughly 1900 and accelerated in the 1950s, continues at that pace. In fact, the trend has slightly accelerated since 1990, when roughly 75 percent of all American lived in urban cities. As of 2010, the last official census, more than 80 percent of Americans now live in urban areas.

Conclusions

While many of the trends in domestic migration—Americans moving from one place to another—remain the same, there are also some new trends. The movement from rural areas to cities continues, and migration from the Northeast and Midwest regions to the South and West also remains intact. However, there are now new destinations for many of those domestic migrants, as states such as Oregon, Washington are the destination for more western migration than is Calfornia, which is now losing net domestic migrants. In the South, North Carolina and South Carolina have now emerged as destinations of choice, along with long-favorites Florida and Texas.