Urban Wire Metro migration: Where are we moving?
Graham MacDonald
Display Date

Migration patterns across the United States have changed a great deal over the past decade as America’s metropolitan areas have changed. Our new interactive map looks at migration across our top 100 metros over time (click image below for map).

Source: Urban Institute analysis of IRS Statistics of Income (SOI) data

A first look at overall migration from 2004 to 2010 shows a steady flow of people moving from the dense urban centers of the Rust Belt and the Northeast to the urban sprawl of the Southeast and Southwest. Larger metros—New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago—saw more people move out than move in over this period, and some of the biggest gainers were Austin, Las Vegas, Raleigh, Portland, and most of Florida.

A closer look by year (accomplished by dragging the slider at the top of the map) reveals that the majority of this migration occurred between 2004 and 2008, before the housing market crash. The relocation pattern has leveled out since then, and the total number of moves has dropped significantly as a result of the recession. However, a large influx of people has continued to move to Raleigh and Austin, despite the economic downturn.

The map also shows that when most people move, they move nearby (use your mouse to hover over metros on the map). The top three metros that fed Portland’s migration, for example, are Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, which make up about 10 percent of total inflows. Exceptions to this rule include Florida metros such as Orlando and Tampa, which receive a disproportionate number of incoming residents—often relocating retirees—from New York.

What could be spurring these changes to warmer, less dense metropolitan areas? Aside from the Florida metros I just mentioned, many metros with the largest net inflows have large populations of young professionals, ages 25 to 34, who are going through a period of their lives when they are most likely to move. In other words, it seems as though young “echo boomers” are flocking to younger metros to live and work near others in their cohort.

This list of “younger” metros includes Austin (16.9 percent of the population between 25 and 34); Denver and Washington (15.3 percent); and Houston, Charleston, Las Vegas, and Portland (15.1 percent). The metro-wide average is 13.3 percent. In some metros, such as Austin, DC, Denver, and Charleston, these young professionals blend in with a large working-age population, while in others, such as Houston and Las Vegas, this younger cohort stands out, making up a large and significant part of the workforce.

To craft effective policies, we need to understand how nationwide transformations are affecting our local areas—and understanding how migration changes our cities and communities is one step in this direction.

Research Areas Neighborhoods, cities, and metros
Policy Centers Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center