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April 25, 2006

Movin' 'Mericans

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Are you following the herd?

The U.S. Census Bureau recently released a report (this is a large by blog link standards -- 5.11 MB -- PDF file) on domestic net migration trends in the United States down to the county level for the period 2000-2004.

"Domestic" migration in demography-speak refers to migration involving moves from one part of the country to another; moves with foreign origins or destinations are not considered in the report. The Bureau defines "migration" as a change in residence where a county line is crossed. "Net" migration is in-migrants minus out-migrants, or the net effect of the migration process.

There are two basic sources for the migration data. For the population age 65 and older, Medicare records are used. For the rest of the population, the Bureau uses IRS income tax records. Migration is measured by comparing addresses from year to year. A change in address represents a "move," and a move across a county line is a "migration" as noted above. One can nit-pick that the information is incomplete by citing people not reporting to the IRS or who are first-time filers. But there is nothing much that can be done about these defects, and they probably don't distort the overall picture. As for spouses and dependent children, these get picked up by the number of exemptions claimed on the tax form.

So much for the geek stuff. What about the horse race?

The decades-long mega-trend of net migration from the Northeast, Great Lakes and upper Plains states to the rest of the country continues, though there have been detail changes.

During the 1990s Maine exported people, but in the 2000-04 period became the strongest migration magnet in the Northeast. New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island also were gainers. Massachusetts' annualized net out-migration numbers and rates increased from 1990-2000 to 2000-04 whereas Connecticut and former sick-man Pennsylvania, while still negative, were much less so. New York and New Jersey continued to have heavy out-migration.

Out west, most of what the Bureau calls the Mountain division had net in-migration, paced by Nevada and Arizona. The Pacific division (the three coastal states plus Alaska and Hawaii) had net out-migration for both periods, though Washington and Oregon were in-migratory throughout.

The state with the largest positive net migration count in 2000-04 was Florida, averaging 190,000 per year. This volume was almost three times greater than that for Arizona, its nearest rival. Moreover, Florida actually increased its pace; its annualized rate per thousand population went from 7.9 in the 90s to 11.4 in the present decade.

Although southern states were generally in-migratory, exceptions were Louisiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma. The only Great Lakes state with net in-migration was Wisconsin.

The Census Bureau report includes a table showing migration patterns for the 25 largest metropolitan areas. (Metro area definitions are rule-based. But because being a metro area is a qualification for receiving Federal money from various programs, the definitions have been changed to the point that large swathes of the country are now deemed "metropolitan." So data users beware. Well, that's my opinion.) The metro area surrounding New York City held steady at a just over minus-11 per-thousand rate over both periods. The Chicago metro area also held steady at -5.1. Miami, Seattle, Minneapolis, Denver and Cincinnati went from positive to negative. No area went the other direction, though Baltimore almost made it. The metro area taking the biggest hit was San Francisco, where the annualized rate went from -5.5 to -14.7. San Jose, not part of the top-25, didn't do well either: sic transit gloria dot-com.

Maps showing county trends had some interesting details. For example, most of California's coastal counties had net domestic out-migration over 2000-04 whereas nearly all inland counties were in-migratory. I suspect some of this has to do with the relative cost of housing.

In the Northeast, the highest in-migration rates were in the northeastern tip of Pennsylvania, east-central New Hampshire and southern Maine. Michael Blowhard might be interested to learn that the western Finger Lakes part of New York did okay too (but not Monroe County).

In general, counties containing large cities had negative net migration. So, at the county level of analysis, the "return to the cities" movement I've been reading about for literally!! more than 40 years still isn't panning out. (Yes, I know that sub-county data could yield different results.)

I might do a post or two on what seems to be happening in a city or two I'm familiar with.

Faithful readers, if your eyes haven't glazed over after all the statistic stuff I threw at you, feel free to toss your opinion about what all this means into our handy Comments bin.



posted by Donald at April 25, 2006


My eyes didn't glaze one bit. I love this kind of stuff. I look forward to your analysis.

Posted by: Max Goss on April 25, 2006 7:29 PM

Odd. From the license plates I see these days, I thought all the Floridians were moving here to western North Carolina. I think they're all summer residents, though.

Me, I'm a transplant from Louisiana.

Posted by: Waterfall on April 25, 2006 8:16 PM

People are fleeing high tax cities and states. People are also fleeing city violence, crappy public schools, and high housing costs. All of these effects are directly related to the presence of high non-white minority populations. For obvious reasons.

Posted by: Please Ignore the Man Behind the Curtain on April 25, 2006 8:17 PM

Dear PITHBTC, you could have left off the last sentence, made your point, and not seemed as, well, cranky.

Posted by: Don McArthur on April 25, 2006 8:40 PM

What Max said. And, s'il vous plait, could you address PITHBTC's supposition, b/c cranky or not, it seems pretty outrageous and inquiring minds and all that.

For what it's worth, the c-trix is seriously weighing a move to smalltown Midwest, but one of the things she is loathe to leave is the wildly diverse population of Los Angeles. She is completely over, on the other hand, much of its privileged white population.

How's *that* fer cranky, eh?

Posted by: communicatrix on April 25, 2006 8:56 PM

My own crankiness has to do with whether population growth is always and everywhere a good thing. I guess I'm the last of the "it's crowded enough around here already" types. But always interesting to glean evidence of how Americans are living. Many thanks for the all the fascinating facts. I'm starting a cheering section for Donald to offer his own interpretations.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 25, 2006 10:14 PM

C & Don,

Sorry to offend, but its true. Majority minority areas are rife with crime, poor schools, and goverments that tax the citizens to death.

White flight (and other flight) moves populations to the suburbs, where property values are bid up astronomically. High property taxes follow. All that's left is to move farther away to try to get away from the taxation. Thus flight to more rural areas. At least for those with enough money or who can find jobs out in the hinterlands. Many young couples who want to have a decent sized family have to find cheaper housing, but with good schools. And the older folks want warmer weather.

C--if you love "diversity" so much, why are you leaving LA? High taxes? High crime? Why are you moving to a rural area in the white Midwest? Why not move south of the border, or to the deep south, or some other "diverse" place? We all know the truth of the matter. Whites have been fleeing the cities now for two generations. You are just one of the last ones to leave.

Really, I don't mean to offend anybody. but its hard to make sense of the numbers if we can't be honest.

By the way, I'm from the midwest. You might find the "nice" people there react to Big City you the same way as you do to your LA neighbors. They are seeing a lot more of you people these days, as the numbers show. But I hope it all works out.

Posted by: Cranky, But Honest on April 25, 2006 10:33 PM

White flight? Let's not forget that a substantial number of the people fleeing the increasingly diverse cities aren't white themselves.

Posted by: Peter on April 25, 2006 10:47 PM

I find this kind of information very interesting also and have been recently hoping to become more knowledgeable about it (many years after missing out on the opportunity to study this stuff in grad school) -- so thanks for the link to this report! It is a nice way to begin "putting my toe in the water" so to speak.

One thing however, I'm not sure if I'm really understanding what average annual net out-migration rates "truly" mean.

In the case of the NYC metro area, for instance, I assume that an approximately 11% average net outmigration rate between 2000 and 2004 means that the NYC metro area has been experiencing an average net loss each year of about 11% of it's population. However, this seems counter-intuitive, though, especially after an annual average net outmigration rate of about 11% between 1990 and 2000 also! According to the tables, if I am reading them correctly, such a net outmigration means that the NYC metro area has been losing an average of about 200,000 people a year since 1990 -- but if this is true, where is all the abandoned housing?

Superficially and anecdotally, except for perhaps the disaster years when NYC and surrounding older suburbs were indeed experiencing vast waves of housing abandonment, it's always "seemed," at least, as though the NYC metro area was just experiencing large internal demographic shifts in population -- but that the metro area as a whole (i.e., when one includes the burgeoning NYC suburbs and exurbs) was holding steady with only perhaps a very mild net outmigration.

Furthermore, according to the news reports, NYC itself, I believe, has actually been experiencing a small, but steady net increase in population during the 1990s (?) and early 2000s -- and it's hard to imagine the outlying areas experiencing such tremendous volumes of net outmigration to generate a minus 200,000 yearly average net out migration overall.

Also, it would be interesting to see sets of similar statistics for smaller geographic entities, so that one could see, for instance, net out- or in-migration for the various boroughs of NYC and for the various suburban municipalities in the NYC metro area.

And, since you are a former Albany demographer, I'm assume you would agree that one has to be very careful when interpreting statistics for a state as a whole, as some aggregate state statistics are, in certain ways, almost meaningless, as different parts of a state can have very little relationship with other parts of a state. (For example, what's happening in the Buffalo area seems irrelevant, in certain senses, to what's happening in the NYC area, and vice versa.)

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on April 25, 2006 11:08 PM

Banjamin -- The Census Bureau used per-thousand rates in their report (to avoid less-readable numbers such as -0.00052). So the New York metro rate is -1.1% per year. But that is probably somewhat counterbalanced by net foreign in-migration as well as natural increase (an excess of births over deaths) to keep the overall population growing at least some.

Historical trends in total population are tricky to follow. City government statisticians raised hell after the 1980 census because they thought the place had been grossly undercounted, and they probably weren't happy with the 1990 or 2000 results either. Censuses are hard to get right in any circumstance, and hardcore urban places and seriously rural areas create special enumeration problems. At least some undercount happens most places (in part because some folks want to avoid being counted). But there's also a certain amount of double counting too. I left NYS government at the end of 1974 so I know little about the later NYC undercount dispute other than there was bitterness involved.

As for blog posts on the subjects you raise, I don't have the time (or the raw data and software) to do much more than sketchy studies. If I latch on to someone else's work, I might well pass along the results they report.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on April 25, 2006 11:33 PM

People have been leaving some of the big northern and CA metro areas for years. The broad trend, as at least one other commenter noted, has been flight from high taxes and high living costs. There's also been substantial migration to places that are physically pleasant. The tradeoff has been that in leaving the established cities people also leave centers of culture. However, I wonder if some kind of cultural tipping point (or points) is becoming increasingly likely as the new places pick up so much population that they become major cultural centers in their own right. For example, I read recently that Palm Beach County, Florida now has the third-largest Jewish population of any county in the USA, which is remarkable if true. It's certainly the fastest-growing Jewish population center, which makes it a low-risk destination for Jews who want to leave NY in particular. I assume that the Palm Beach phenomenon is being replicated, or is on the verge of replication, for various other US subpopulations. It will thus be very interesting to see how the country's cultural dynamics change during the coming decade or two. I think we may see some major, and for many people unanticipated, shifts.

BTW, I think there's also a lot of intra-state population turnover, but this Census report only hints at it. For example, Miami-Dade County, Florida has been losing population for years, and Palm Beach County has been gaining, and I assume that these facts indicate a substantial intra-state migration. This makes perfect sense, since Miami has become increasingly Hispanic and the conventional wisdom is that a lot of the non-Hispanics who left moved to Broward and Palm Beach. It also makes sense as a microcosm of the national pattern, since taxes and particularly housing costs have risen a great deal in the Miami area.

Posted by: Jonathan on April 26, 2006 12:40 AM


America is an interesting case, isn't it? Given the national culture, migration seems to have a special role here. And while some of the migrations, internal and external are noted in standard American history (Manifest Destiny, the great northern migration of southern Blacks, the relationship between immigration and the Progressive Era, etc.) it's only in the past decade or so that I've begun to see the migration data parsed more carefully and related to cultural, ethnic and racial trends. I remember an interesting discussion of how political reactions to the Vietnam war differed regionally/culturally, for example. I assume we'll see more of that in the years to come. It might be interesting to hear some experts make predictions about the impacts of these shifts on culture and politics.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 26, 2006 4:01 AM

Looks to me like people are fleeing the cold weather. No wonder Al Gore can't get folks worried about global warming.

Posted by: CyndiF on April 26, 2006 9:44 AM

Conventional wisdom holds that rapid population growth is undesirable because of all the strain it puts on a region's infrastructure and other facilities. And I say that the conventional wisdom is nothing but a pile of manure.
I used to live in Connecticut and (barely) survived one of the worst de-populations to hit any American state or region in recent decades, namely the state's "Great Recession" of the early 1990's. News reports at the time claimed that Connecticut lost 10% of its population in a year's time. While that proved exaggerated, there clearly was massive emigration. It is difficult to convey just how depressing and discouraging it was to experience such a horrible period: mass layoff announcements seemingly a everyday occurrence, "for sale" signs lining residential streets, a series of bank failures, 500 applicants whenever a McDonald's or Burger King advertised a minimum-wage job opening, local businesses that had been around for decades closing almost overnight, that sort of thing.
So rapid population growth is a strain on an area? Give me rapid growth any day! The alternative is much, much worse.

Posted by: Peter on April 26, 2006 10:42 AM

Michael -- So you want opinions from me. Oh dear. I'm jes' a simple-minded ol' technical demographer, not one o' them fancy-Dan social demographer fellas trying to relate population statistics to this or that pet theory.

For what it's worth, I say the data in the Census Bureau report are too highly aggregated to tell us much. For instance, if they had split their Medicare (65+) data from the IRS data, some of the patterns might have changed. This is because retirement migration is (obviously) not directly driven by job opportunities that can affect other migration streams. A good deal of the migration from the Snow Belt is comprised of retirees, and this helps to keep net migration for those states negative.

Pennsylvania's near-turnaround interests me because, in the past, the state was a heavy loser of retirement age population. Perhaps that pool temporarily got dried up; we shall see.

Californians have been fleeing to Nevada and Arizona (and Washington and Oregon) for a several decades. Doubtless the state's tax situation is a big push factor. Plus there are normal changes in the industrial mix. Up into the 1980s the relative fortunes of aircraft companies was a factor. If Boeing was doing poorly, Washington would lose migrants to California. If Douglas, Lockheed and Northrop were hard-up, workers would head for Seattle. Given the consolidation of the industry, this is changing. I just read that the last commercial passenger liner built in California rolled off the line in Long Beach; they only build 'em in Renton and Everett Washington these days.

Housing costs are a factor in county migration patterns in California. Younger workers with families can't find decent, affordable housing in the immediate Bay Area counties. So the buy places in Tracy, Patterson, Modesto, Lodi, etc. and commute to San Jose, Sunnyvale, etc.

And then there are technological factors. In my sour moments I contend that Houston wouldn't exist if it weren't for the oil industry and air conditioning. And for Arizona the oil factor can be ignored; the snow-avoiding retirees would likely retire elsewhere absent air conditioning.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on April 26, 2006 11:31 AM

Pennsylvania's near-turnaround interests me because, in the past, the state was a heavy loser of retirement age population. Perhaps that pool temporarily got dried up; we shall see.

I can't prove it, unfortunately, but my sense is that much of the movement to PA comes from black displacement byr the wave of Latino immigrants hitting the NY Metro region. I've been observing the latter phenomenon over the last 12 years in Newark.

Posted by: ziel on April 26, 2006 12:29 PM

" ... my sense is that much of the movement to PA comes from black displacement by the wave of Latino immigrants hitting the NY Metro region"

Many New Yorkers are moving to new subdivisions in the Poconos region of NE Pennsylvania is search of (semi) affordable housing. I guess this shows that the urge for a house of one's own is powerful enough to make people tolerate 2+ hour one-way trips to work every day. You'll see advertisements for these developments in the Post and Daily News (Times readers presumably can afford less-distant housing).
Anecdotally, I have heard that many of these "migrants" are minorities.

Posted by: Peter on April 26, 2006 12:43 PM

Interesting stuff Donald. Anyone who doesn't like this kind of thing just has no business calling themselves a geek. Unfortunately, living in Denver, what this means is that people are realizing how nasty the east coast is and are getting out. Denver proper may not be growing, but the rest of this place is. The other lesson is avoid Florida like the plague. During some sporting event held in Florida, and I can't remember what it was now, a few sportwriters commented on how clogged the highways were around Tampa, now I see why.

Posted by: Patrick on April 26, 2006 1:19 PM

Donald wrote, "And then there are technological factors. In my sour moments I contend that Houston wouldn't exist if it weren't for the oil industry and air conditioning."

That and the hurricane that wiped Galveston, one of the most sophisticated cultural and financial cities in the U.S., nearly off the map in September 1900.

Posted by: beloml on April 26, 2006 2:31 PM

Peter - You have nailed it. While there are some who moan and groan over the apparent flight of whites from declining non-white cities, the fact is that you have (in Southern California, especially), whites, blacks and Latinos moving to less populous counties, as well as blacks moving to back to the South.

I also don't think it is simply a matter of people moving to "low tax" states and cities. Many people want to stay in the areas in which they live, but are being priced out of the market by an increase in rents and house values, and by a perceived decline in the quality of public services. There is also a kind of short-sightedness at work here. Again, in Southern California, there are stories of communities building housing units to appeal to high-income people and deliberately (or passively allowing) middle class support people such as teachers, firefighters and police officers, to be priced out of the market. Many of these people tried to endure long commutes, but with other costs rising, have simply given in and decided to move elsewhere.

I would also like to see this demographic data correlated with economic data. For example, I don't think it is as much a matter that people are fleeing cities as that they are moving to where they think the jobs are, or where they think the jobs will be.

Posted by: Alec on April 26, 2006 5:19 PM


Your thoughts on this link?

Posted by: JM on April 28, 2006 3:47 PM

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