State migration trends: A familiar pattern reasserts itself?

During the “great recession” that began in 2008, the United States saw an interruption in a decades-long pattern of more Americans moving away from states in the Midwest and Northeast than moving in, while more moved to states in the South and West.

The break in this pattern was good news for those who had bemoaned the loss of political clout based on the relative changes in state population.

To wit:  In the four census periods between the 1960s and the 2000s, the 11 Northeast states plus DC saw their Electoral College percentage plummet by 15 percentage points, so that today they represent barely 20% of the electoral votes required to elect the U.S. president, with s similar lack of clout in the House of Representatives.

For the 12 Midwestern states, the trends haven’t been much better.

But for a few years at least, states in the Midwest and Northeast stopped shedding quite so many of their residents to the Southern and Western regions of the country.

The question was, would it last?  Now we know the answer:  Nope.

Instead, new census data is showing a return to familiar patterns.  In the past few years, the states with the largest net in-migration of people are these predictable ones in the Sunbelt region:

  • Florida: +200,000 net new migrants
  • Texas: +170,000
  • Colorado: +54,000
  • Arizona: +48,000
  • South Carolina: +46,000

By comparison, woebegone Illinois, beset by state fiscal crises, a mountain of over-bloated state pension obligations and a crumbling infrastructure that causes some people major-league heartburn on a daily basis, experienced a net loss of more than 100,000 people.

New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Jersey and other “rust belt” states aren’t far behind.

This map, courtesy of The Washington Post, pretty much says it all:




There is one glaring difference today compared to previous decades. Back then, California was always at or near the top in terms of positive net in-migration from other states.  That’s all different now – as California is a state with one of the largest net losses.

What’s particularly telling is that California, which used to share many of the characteristics of other Sunbelt and Western states, now seems much more in line with the Northeast and Industrial Midwest when it comes to fundamental factors like state personal and corporate tax rates, real estate prices, environmental regulations, employment dynamics, unionization rates, and the size of public payrolls as a share of the total labor force.

Based on the entrenched and intractable socio-political dynamics at work, don’t look for the migration patterns to change anytime soon.

What are your own personal perspectives, based on where you live?

2 thoughts on “State migration trends: A familiar pattern reasserts itself?

  1. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I do believe that this is the political motivation for the lack of border enforcement and the transportation large numbers of unaccompanied minors into certain states.

    As more entrepreneurs, businesses and individuals interested in lower tax and regulatory burdens move into states like Texas and Arizona, there is unchecked migration of people who seek the aid and comfort of a “benevolent” federal government. These populations would be more likely to advocate for more government spending and “protections.” Amnesty or other legal status would change the political complexion of these states and bring a gradual end to the financial and individual liberties enjoyed there.

    In an April Supreme Court decision, it was determined that congressional apportionment must be based on total population, including non-citizens. This grants political influence to all who reside in a state — regardless of their eligibility to vote.

    The beauty of 50 independent states is the liberty of mobility; if one state is a bad social experiment, families and businesses can move. Citizens acting in their own best interest is antagonistic to a powerful central government.

  2. This is an interesting but very complicated question.

    States are not homogenous, least of all Oregon. There is the rather large metropolitan Portland area and there are the vast rural counties, some of which have miniscule population rates. Let me iterate the influences at work here:

    . Hi-tech companies finding cheap labor in a lower cost-of-living state.
    . Retirement “haven” with relatively low taxes and a growing geriatric-medical infrastructure.
    . Long-term natural resource legal objectives, such as establishing anti-population case law in poor counties with corrupt judges.

    In short, the divergence between metropolitan and rural can be described similarly to that of any other impoverished natural resource “third world” county:

    . Concentrate the population in metropolitan areas and get them out of uncontrollable rural land.
    . Clear-cut and then strip-mine the rural areas.
    . Move on.

    The drug problem around Oregon also reflects the similarity.

    I doubt many people will express it that bluntly, but that’s what it is.

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