Long-term shifts in the U.S. economy coupled with the recent recession means Americans are more likely to pack up and move for employment-related reasons. Although the total number of residential moves is down, new data shows a clear pattern of the states that people are fleeing the fastest.
Moving company United Van Lines released its 36th annual study of customer migration patterns, analyzing a total of 125,000 moves across the 48 continental states in 2012. The study provides an up-to-date, representative snapshot of overarching moving patterns in the U.S., and reveals a mass exodus from the Northeast.
At No. 1, New Jersey has the highest ratio of people moving out compared to those moving in. Of the 6,300 total moves tracked in the state last year, 62% were outbound.
“New Jersey has been suffering from deindustrialization for some time now, as manufacturing moved from the Northeast to the South and West,” says economist Michael Stoll, professor and chair of the Department of Public Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles. “And because it’s tied to New York, the high housing costs may also be pushing people out.”
In fact, most of the top-10 states people are leaving are located in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions, including Illinois (60%), New York (58%), Michigan (58%), Maine (56%), Connecticut (56%) and Wisconsin (55%). According to Stoll, this reflects a consistent trend of migration from the Frost Belt to the Sun Belt states based on a combination of causes.
The economy has been a major push factor for residents in the Frost Belt, particularly those in hard-hit areas like Michigan. “They had a terrific excess of people as a result of the collapse of the economy,” says Stoll. Detroit, the state’s largest city, has the highest metropolitan unemployment rate in the U.S. At 20%, it more than doubles the national average.
At the same time, Stoll says local employment trends combined with high costs of living causes many displaced workers to look for greener pastures. New York City, for example, consistently ranks as one of the most expensive cities in the nation. If you’ve lost your job, shelling out the median $4,000 monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan is likely no longer feasible or attractive.
The Northeast and Midwest also feature a comparatively high concentration of residents over 65, says Stoll, who tend to retire to states that are warmer and less expensive. That’s why southern and western states are some of the most popular places to move to. According to the study, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and Arizona feature some of the highest ratios of people moving in.
Meanwhile, the most popular destination for relocation is Washington, D.C. “It’s a high-cost area,” says Stoll, “but it features good economic opportunities. It has a maturing high-tech sector and many Federal government jobs, which are more stable in recessions.” Furthermore, D.C. attracts highly educated professionals, and Stoll says college-educated young people between the ages of 18 to 35 are the most likely to move.
One big surprise from the study is Oregon, which is the second most popular state with 61% inbound migration. Although it’s not the typical temperate climate of a retirement spot, Stoll believes hipster city Portland may be attracting both older individuals and young people with its mix of economic growth, cutting edge urban planning and scenic landscape.