Migration in America: Where People Moved in 2015

Posted in: I'm a Mover, Moving Industry News

2015 Moving Migration Trends

Making Sense of the Van Lines’ Numbers

The 2015 National Movers Study numbers are out! Time once again to see where people in the USA have been moving to and from, based on the reports of United, Allied and Atlas Van Lines.

Of course, as Eric Clapton once said, “It’s in the way that you use it.” The van lines all have different numbers to work with, and each works them in different ways to determine just how many people are heading where. In turn, different states will use different study results, making for some conflicting conclusions across the country.

So who was the big move migration winner of 2015, Oregon or Texas? And how did others fare? Let’s hear what our industry associates have to say.

The Reports

United Van Lines, the nation’s largest mover, put out their 39th annual National Movers Study featuring an interactive map that lets us see all sorts of numbers and percentages. The one thing that catches the eye with this map is the streak of yellow running in a pretty clear and impressive line across the country, from Massachusetts to Kansas and, skipping perennial inbound-majority Colorado, over to Utah. Mississippi breaks from the pack as the only ‘outbound’ state out of line.


Note by clicking on the legend box in the bottom left corner that these yellow states are yellow because over 55% of their United interstate moves were outbound. Likewise, those blue states saw more than 55% of their interstate moves coming in. The gray states, which United calls ‘balanced’, saw their inbound-outbound numbers fall within this 55% threshold, although most of them had at least some in or out majority. Only Delaware and Louisiana landed a neat 50-50.

Speaking of the blue states, they are all over the map. We can assume then that the reasons people moved to these states are as varied as the states themselves. Below we’ll check in with states from every region to get their take on why people are moving in – or moving out. Meanwhile we will note that, according to United, Oregon is once again the big migration winner, with a whopping 69% of its moves coming into the state in 2015.

Allied Van Lines, unlike United, ranks states in terms of the actual numerical difference between inbound and outbound moves. Logically, states with more people will see more moves, so it may come as no surprise that Texas, the nation’s second-most populous state, had the largest differential between inbound and outbound moves and is thus Allied’s 2015 Migration King.

Note: While population and move differential are not directly related, it is reasonable to expect the more populous states to have larger differentials. There is no reason Texas couldn’t have a small differential, it is simply less likely than in a state with a small population like Delaware, which saw fewer total moves than the differential of 10 states. But let’s get back to the basics.

With Allied ranking states in terms of overall numbers of moves, Texas, Florida and Arizona come out as the top three, just like in 2014. United’s King of Percentages, Oregon, ranks 4th this year on Allied’s list, up from #7 last year, leapfrogging South Carolina, Colorado and Washington (which, by the way, all have larger populations than Oregon). So here we see an indication that United and Allied, though their ranking methods may differ, do see similar trends in their numbers.

Until you look at Utah and Mississippi.

United has Utah as ‘outgoing’, with 55% of all moves exiting the state. Allied has Utah with a net gain in moves – 8th best in the nation actually. Meanwhile United has Mississippi as one of their outgoing states, while Allied has Ole Miss at 1 more move inbound than out.

These differences, of course, are due to the moves these van lines do and not the way they work the numbers. Regardless, we can’t fully rely on any one van line to give us an accurate picture of the overall migration trends in America.

Although in Hawaii’s case, we have to.

Atlas Van Lines is the only van line to give numbers for otherwise neglected Hawaii. They tell us that between 2014 and 2015 the island chain went from balanced to outbound. In fact, if you click on Hawaii on Atlas’s map you’ll see that Hawaii has come up as either balanced or outbound for each of the past ten years.

We’re not sure how Atlas gets in and out of Hawaii so we’ll have to take their word for it.

Allied and Atlas both give us info on Canada’s various provinces. But while Allied shows a mix of inbound, balanced and outbound differentials – with Vancouver’s British Columbia a strong inbound performer – Atlas has almost the entire country moving out.

Back here in the US, Atlas and United offer some striking differences. New Jersey, United’s biggest loser, does not even make the Atlas Outbound Top 5. And while South Dakota is inbound blue on United’s map (albeit barely) they are #4 on the Atlas Outbound List.

So what’s the point of all this then?

While it is true that some states (like Oregon and Texas) show strong inbound tendencies across the industry, and while states with high costs of living and unpredictable professional sports teams (like New York and New Jersey) show a strong outbound bent, some states are pretty much wild cards. So when you get a rundown like this one from Daily Finance that makes assumptions about Americans in general from the numbers of only one van line (in this case Atlas) you get a rather skewed perspective.

Daily Finance has Louisiana, Delaware, Vermont, South Dakota all in their list of places that ‘Americans are moving out of’. Yet United has Louisiana and Delaware as 50/50, and both Vermont and South Dakota as inbound.

Business Insider uses the same Atlas findings to talk about the “12 States where Americans are moving in, big time.” Those 12 include North Dakota, Tennessee and Maine, all of which are balanced according to United.

So instead of trying to juggle the numbers ourselves we decided instead to hit the road and carry out our own cross-country investigation, to see what various states had to say about their own rankings.

Here’s what we found.

The Reactions

Oregon doesn’t cite their culture, their open spaces or even their microbreweries in reporting their third consecutive top ranking by United Van Lines. They simply repeat United’s findings and say that “those moving to Oregon cited new jobs or company transfers as the top reasons, followed by the desire to be closer to family.”

Oregon does take it a step further by breaking the results down into metropolitan areas. While everyone tends to talk about Portland (and their microbreweries) the Salem and Medford-Ashland areas actually garnered the highest percentage of inbound moves. The Portland area came in close behind, but only because they were nice enough to include in their overall growth two neighboring counties across the Columbia River in Washington state. Maybe it’s this welcoming, communal attitude that is drawing so many people to the Pacific Northwest.

That and the microbreweries.

Texas on the other hand seems all-too-ready to lament United’s findings, which show the Lone Star state slipping down to #9. “With the slowdown in energy company business, Texas job gains and migration to the state has slowed in the last year,” says Steve Brown via the Dallas Morning News. “So United Van Lines’ report makes some sense.”

Yet according to Allied’s numbers Texas is number one for inbound moves. Seems the state’s slowdown really is slow. So slow it is almost picking up.

Like their Oregonian counterparts, the folks at the Austin Business Journal get specific with various areas within Texas state, citing Houston as “the most popular moving destination.” The reason? “Fueled in large part by the fracking frenzy, Houston employers added nearly a half-million new jobs, growing the city’s population by 570,000 over the past five years.”

But then… “as oil prices plummeted over the past year, Houston’s energy sector cut more than a thousand oil rigs and 4,000 workers.

Four thousand oil rig workers out of over half a million migrants doesn’t sound like much to us. Though maybe the trend is just beginning. If it is, all you guys who helped move those people in can now help them move out.

Mississippi’s WDAM-7News also decides that more people are moving out of their state than in because of their #9 ranking by United for most outbound moves. But they, like Texas, should look at Allied’s numbers. There they have a net gain of one family. Better yet, they should embrace the results of Atlas Van Lines, which show the state gaining fifty-one families. Are all those inbound families just really small?

Florida is high on United’s inbound list at #6, but Leila Miller at the Miami Herald sounds a bit despondent when she says “We’re not the No. 1 choice.” If she looked at either Allied’s or Atlas’s rankings she might be a bit more excited – both reports have them at #2, trailing only Texas. The influx is due, we are told by Frank Schnidman, the Executive Director for the Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions at Florida Atlantic University, not only to retirement but to “an increasing number of unskilled labor jobs in tourism and construction services.”

We hope for the sake of all those retirees moving in that their homes were in fact built by skilled laborers.

South Carolina ranks #2 on United’s list of most inbound moves, which gives the people in the Palmetto State something to cheer about. Amanda Coyne of the Greenville News did well to promote their favorable United ranking since Allied has them at #5 – while Atlas has them on the negative side of the inbound/outbound scale by well over 400 moves!

“The growth of industry in South Carolina, and the growth of manufacturing in particular, can be cited as an underlying reason for the state’s continued growth,” says Clemson University economics professor Scott Baier, who also cited more traditional reasons for South Carolina’s continued growth: a warmer climate, lower income taxes and lower housing prices.

Ms. Coyne scores more points for backing up Mr. Baier’s statements by digging up some numbers straight from the U.S. Census Bureau, which shows South Carolina growing at a faster clip than the national average over the last five years. (More on the ever-reliable U.S. Census Bureau below.)

Anyone who brings up Atlas’s numbers at a party in Charleston is going to totally embarrass himself.

Illinois doesn’t fare well on any of the three van lines’ rankings – and in this Reboot Illinois piece by Kevin Hoffman the Fighting Illini get a thorough trouncing. “The (United) survey cites retiring baby boomers seeking warmer climates as the main reason people are leaving the Midwest and Northeast for the southern and western regions of the country,” Hoffman reports, grouping together that long line of yellow states on United’s migration map. But he also points out that “some of the states with the highest percentage of inbound moves, such as Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Idaho, have their fair share of weather woes, too.” Which means there’s a lot more than weather at play, just as there are a lot of non-baby-boomers on the move.

David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, is quoted as saying that “Illinois’ rugged economic condition is certainly one reason it’s losing population…The business and tax climate in Illinois is volatile, and while businesses don’t like taxes, they hate uncertainty.”

To say nothing of Illinois’ stratospheric tax burden.

Census data referred to in the article tells us that all of Illinois’ neighbors have experienced net population gains over the past several years. Illinois, right there in the middle of them, has suffered the worst overall net population loss out of all fifty states. It’s like a population black hole but in reverse.

Kansas is feeling the hurt of being near the top of United’s outbound list. (They’re not doing too well by Allied’s numbers either, though according to Atlas they’re almost at even.) KMUW, Wichita’s NPR station, tells us that people are moving out for reasons related to jobs and retirement, reflecting the majority of those moving out of state being between 18 and 34 or over 55.

To hammer home the point, KMUW offers audio of the article – verbatim.

The Wichita Eagle chimes in with the fact that 1 in 6 people who moved out of Kansas did so to be closer to family. A closer look at United’s data shows us, however, that almost 1 in 5 moving into the state also gave family as their reason for their move.

We’ll also point out that whereas people are leaving states like Illinois, New Jersey and New York because of heavy taxpayer burden, Kansas as a state is troubled by the loss of tax revenue as reported by the Kansas City Business Journal.

Strangely, according to Secretary of Revenue Nick Jordan, this past December was “the first time this fiscal year that individual income tax receipts have not grown compared to the prior fiscal year to date.” In other words, Kansas has been a high outbound state for the past two years, but it wasn’t until December of this year that their relative tax revenue began to drop?
We wonder if Kansas is simply suffering from an inferiority complex stemming from that never-dying joke about being flatter than a pancake. This double whammy of losing both people and tax revenue may also be the impetus behind the article’s odd and sudden mention of their more mountainous neighbor Missouri also ranking as an outbound state.

Maryland seems to be taking the news equally hard, as the Baltimore Business Journal barely takes the time to mention their #10 outbound ranking by United before they toss out the top inbound and outbound states’ names and then try to make us forget about the whole thing with their “Suggested Reading” links below the short article.

Ohio seems to be maintaining an even head over the whole inbound/outbound idea. The Dayton Daily News reports that while Ohio ranked as United’s #5 most outbound state in 2015, they placed a respectable #15 on Allied’s 2015 inbound list. The DDN implies that it isn’t just Ohio but a major portion of the country that is seeing high outbound numbers. They quote Michael Stoll, economist, professor and chair of the Department of Public Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, who said that “the aging Boomer population is driving relocation from the Northeast and Midwest to the West and South, as more and more people retire to warmer regions.”

This may be accurate, but it may also be a way to take up space so the Daily News can ignore the Armageddon-like numbers Atlas Van Lines has for Ohio.

Idaho has reason to sound upbeat as they’ve been ranked by United as a high inbound state for the second year in a row. Referencing the inbounders, the Idaho State Journal reports that “the majority (41 percent) said they were coming to the state because of a company transfer or to start a new job. The other largest reasons for moving to the state included being closer to family (28 percent), seeking a lifestyle change (21 percent) or retirement (20 percent).”

Like Oregon, Idaho offers some breakdown into moves by county. Ada County, which includes the capital city of Boise, saw the largest percentage of the state’s moves. Also mentioned is Bannock County, whose metropolises of Pocatello, Chubbuck and Lava Hot Springs attracted people from “all over the country, the largest number of moves…(coming) from Virginia with Colorado and California not far behind.”

We admit that we have no idea what this is supposed to signify.

New Mexico sounds guardedly optimistic in the wake of its recent population losses. Juliana Vadnais at Albuquerque Business First touts her state as balanced based on United’s and Atlas’s findings. With United showing a slight (52%) edge to outbounders, Atlas moved more people into New Mexico than out, the two combining for a closely balanced ledger. If Ms. Vadnais had included Allied’s totals she might have come across as even more optimistic as Allied also has the Land of Enchantment as an overall inbound state.

Interesting to note is that, according to United’s numbers on New Mexico, in 2015 almost 50% of both inbounders and outbounders moved because of jobs. More interesting is the fact only 40% of inbounders were under 55. This means a certain number of people over 55 moved to New Mexico to work. No information is given on what kind of work they went for but our interest is certainly piqued.

Nevada is riding high as United’s second-ranked inbound western state after Oregon, and seventh highest inbound overall. Allied has them in their 10th spot while Atlas gives them a ‘balanced’ score although there too their inbound moves outnumber their outbound.

“(United’s) ranking marks a continued turnaround for Nevada, which was one of the states hit hardest by job loss and real estate woes in the last recession,” the Reno Gazette-Journal tells us. “It is the fifth consecutive year that Nevada has made the survey’s high inbound list for people moving into a new state.”

The Gazette-Journal also tells us that 31% of inbounders moved to Nevada for retirement. Furthermore, United Van Lines consultant Michael Stoll (yes, same Michael Stoll) states that a lot of growth is due to the arrival of companies setting up shop or expanding – perhaps most notably Tesla, who is building a vast $5 billion facility in the Reno area that will employ around 6,500 people. This, we can expect, will keep Nevada on the plus side of the moving scorecard for years to come.

Which is great news for Robert Carney of Carney’s Full Service Movers in Reno. According to MyNews4.com, Carney has seen his business grow 20% over the last two years. “We have three trucks now and we’re about to add a fourth truck this spring,” Carney says. “I think there’s a lot of opportunities…and it keeps growing, so the opportunities keep growing.”

No matter whose migration report you go by, you can say there’s plenty of opportunity all over the country.

The Roundup

All the numbers and all the percentages can be enough to make all of our heads spin. But there are a few major points that we can take away.

One, a lot of people are moving – for jobs, for retirement, for lower taxes and for a higher standard of living, according to whatever standards they might have. So two, regardless of whether you live and work in an inbound, an outbound or a balanced state you are going to find people who are in fact moving, and therefore need your help. Even in New Jersey, where a full two-thirds of the moves are going out-of-state, there is enough work for a whole host of illegal operations to keep busy. Once the state gets that problem under control there will be even more opportunity for us honest movers.

And three, take the national van lines’ numbers with a grain of salt. After all, the majority of the 40 million people who move every year don’t even hire those big guys. A larger portion of those millions are the ones hiring the local movers and the DIYers who make up our bread and butter.

Even top-ranked Oregon knows not to get too excited about the attention from the van lines. The Bulletin out of Bend in Central Oregon lays out the basics from the U.S. Census Bureau, showing us that Oregon ranks only #9 in terms of net migration from other states. Texas is the big winner in that category, as well as in the overall population growth area where New York, a perennial outbound state, also ranks high due to births and migration from overseas.

So while the van lines’ numbers can give us an idea of the state of the full service/vanline moving industry, across the country there is so much more going on.

And here we are, right in the middle of it all.

So get ready for a busy 2016!


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