The Maddening March of Domestic Migration

Interstate domestic migration is a zero-sum game. Between 2010, the year of the last census, and 2014, the date of the Census Bureau’s latest population estimates, over 2 million people in the United States moved from one state to another. Granted, some people moved more than once. But the net effect for each state is either a gain or a loss. The sum of all the gains minus the sum of all the losses is zero.

Governors love to win at the domestic migration game. More people means more jobs and more taxpayers. Job seekers fill job vacancies and in the process grow the population which creates even more jobs. But the game is getting tighter if not closer to call. Overall, people are moving less. Back in the 1990’s more than one-in-five Americans moved to a different house. About 4 percent of those crossed state lines to get there. Now, about one-in-nine people move annually, and only 2 percent of those cross state lines.

Interestingly, it’s not just that people are getting older and naturally moving less. Young people are also moving less, which is a good thing for governors who are trying to retain their youthful, creative workforce. Indeed, population retention is as important as population gain through domestic migration.

So which states are winning this maddening march? And who are the biggest losers? The Census Bureau’s latest population estimates for states, including updates to the demographic components of change (natural increase and net international as well as domestic migration), provides a scoreboard.

First, the biggest losers. These six states lost more than 100,000 residents to other states: New York (-486,850), Illinois (-318,987), New Jersey (-204,197), California (-189,282), Michigan (-153,159), and Ohio (-122,031). A mix of rust belt and coastal, blue and red, surprising (California?), and not-so-surprising (New York and Michigan). Two of those states (California and New Jersey) more than made up for those losses with international migrants. New York came close to joining that select group but not quite, gaining a healthy 485,224 from overseas.

On the flip side, these are the elite six, gaining more than 100,000 in net, domestic in-migrants between 2010 and 2014: Texas (+562,661), Florida (+449,934), North Carolina (+143,428), Colorado (+140,116), Arizona (+116,355), and South Carolina (+112,384). Whether this trend is driven by the desire for “climate change,” lower taxes, or pot for every chicken, only time will tell. What is clear for now is that job growth and economic better times both precede and follow such movements.

Of course domestic migration is not the be-all and end-all of demographic trends that affect business opportunity or the ability of state governments to manage change. It is, however, a key indicator of where some of the more adventurous among us see their better future.

Tom Exter1 Comment