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They’re Going There? Where People Move in the U.S.

Nobody ever says they’re moving to Idaho, right? But somebody is, according to a 2018 Atlas Van Lines moving migration study. That study found that Idaho had the highest percentage of its interstate movers moving to the state than any other state in the continental U.S. — plus Washington, D.C.

As for the state with the highest percentage of movers leaving, it’s right next door: Wyoming. Atlas terms 26 states “balanced,” meaning moves out of and into them were pretty equal. “Inbound” movers are those choosing to relocate into a state, whereas “outbound” movers are those choosing to leave. Texas shifted from being one of the most prominent inbound locations for the past decade to one of the balanced states.

Coming and Going — The Top States

The states experiencing the highest percent of inbound and outbound moves were as follows:

Inbound Outbound
Idaho (63%) Wyoming (63%)
Oregon (62%) Nebraska (61%)
North Carolina (61%) Illinois (60%)
Tennessee (60%) Delaware (59.5%)
Alaska (59%) Louisiana (59%)
Washington (58%) Connecticut (58.9%)
Michigan (57.2%) New York (58.7%)
Washington D.C. (57.1%) West Virginia (58.6%)
Florida (56%) Indiana (58%)
New Hampshire (55.1%) South Dakota (57.6%)

Source: Atlas Van Lines

The study also looks at how regions performed. Among Midwest states, only Michigan had more people moving in than moving out. It’s significant because it was the first time in more than a decade that the state didn’t have more people leaving than coming. Why? A possible renaissance for the Rust Belt: This was one of the best years for the region in general as it had fewer outbound states than it has averaged in the past.

That stands in sharp contrast to the Northeast, which also had only one state in which more movers moved in — New Hampshire. It wasn’t good news: All the other states in the region that previously been listed as inbound shifted to balanced or outbound, marking a significant downturn for the area.

The Cost of Living and Where People Move

The Missouri Economic Research and Information Center creates an annual average for the cost of living of each state. The center found the least expensive states to live in were found in the South and Midwest.

Here are the top 10 states for each category:

Lowest Cost of Living Highest Cost of Living
Mississippi Hawaii
Indiana Washington D.C.
Michigan New York
Arkansas California
Oklahoma Massachusetts
Idaho Alaska
Tennessee Connecticut
Kansas Maryland
Texas Vermont
Kentucky Rhode Island

Source: Missouri Economic Research and Information Center

Three of the highest inbound states were also on the lowest cost of living, while only one of the outbound states was found on that list.

An equal number of inbound and outbound states were ranked among the highest cost of living states in the nation.

This would seem to indicate that while the cost of living may be an influencing factor, it is not the overriding one motivating people to migrate to or from specific locations.

Population Density

The Census Bureau tracks state population density — the number of people per square mile. Based on the 2010 numbers, the states (including Washington, D.C.) with the highest and lowest population densities are as follows:

Lowest Highest
Alaska – 1.2 Washington D.C. – 9,856.5
Wyoming – 5.8 New Jersey – 1,195.5
Montana – 6.8 Rhode Island – 1,018.1
North Dakota – 9.7 Massachusetts – 839.4
South Dakota – 10.7 Connecticut – 738.1
New Mexico – 17 Maryland – 594.8
Idaho – 19 Delaware – 460.8
Nebraska – 23.8 New York – 411.2
Nevada – 24.6 Florida – 350.6
Kansas – 34.9 Pennsylvania – 283.9

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Wyoming, Nebraska, and South Dakota are among the top 10 for outbound moves, and they also are in the top 10 for lowest population density. Delaware, Connecticut, and New York are in the top 10 for the most outbound movers and for highest population density.

States where movers were moving in had a mixture of high and low population. Alaska had the lowest population density and Washington D.C. had the highest population density, according to the Census Bureau numbers. Interestingly, both were included on the list of states with the highest percentage of inbound movers.

Why People are Moving

There appear to be some correlations between the many measurable economic and social factors that drive migration patterns in the United States, including retirement and military transfers.

The Census Bureau says people give the following reasons for moving, though their numbers aren’t linked solely to moves between states:

  • 42.2% for a housing-related reason, such as wanting a new or better home/apartment.
  • 27.4% for a family-related reason.
  • 20.2% for an employment-related reason.
  • 10.2% for “other” reasons.

However, unlike the years of Westward Expansion in the early 1800s or the Great Migration to urban centers that followed World War II, there does not appear to be a unifying factor dominating the migration trends of recent years. Perhaps a trend will emerge over the next few years to bring a reason to the forefront.

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