- Americans are moving within the country far less often than they once did.
- The peak of US migration followed the end of World War II and lasted through the mid-1970s.
- But while overall migration is down, state-to-state moves are slowly on the rise again.
But while it may feel like everyone you know is flocking to greener pastures, Americans are actually moving at a far less frequent rate than they did during the peak of the country’s internal mobility.
Nearly 20% of all Americans moved each year from the mid-1940s through the 1960s, according to census data.
The majority of those were short moves — people moving from one residence to another in the same ZIP code or county — while a little more than 3% of those moves were across state lines, James Gregory, a history professor at the University of Washington, told Business Insider. Gregory studied moving as part of the university’s America’s Great Migrations project.
Today, a much smaller share of Americans move each year. In 2022, the overall national migration rate, which tracks the ratio of movers in the US compared to the population aged one year and older, was just 12.6%, according to census data — almost half of what it once was during the heyday of American migration.
The deceleration in historical migration has, in part, been spurred by an increasingly robust job market that has given rise to more economic opportunities, bringing the idea of the American dream closer within reach than ever before. In short, people no longer need to move at such high rates in order to attain the job they desire, Gregory said.
However, while overall migration is nearly as low as it’s been in 75 years, big moves — ones that involve crossing state lines — are on the rise — especially from states like New York and California to Florida and Texas, which have lured hundreds of thousands of movers since 2021.
It’s a trend that’s likely to continue as remote work offers people more job flexibility and higher living costs encourage more Americans to seek out affordable and job-rich places to live — which are, more often than not, across the country rather than across town.
World War II set off a 30-year migration boom
The high water mark of American internal migration came following the end of World War II and lasted into the mid-1970s, Gregory said.
More than 55% of Americans are estimated to have moved residences during the war as 16 million men were recruited to join the military, and their families followed them to new postings around the country, Gregory said. A burgeoning defense industry to support the war effort also created new jobs for Americans, which spurred moves.
The rate of migration slowed slightly following the end of the war, but a great industrial boom soon followed, resulting in massive movement to previously underdeveloped regions in the country that were building new factories and hiring workers.
The American West, in particular, including California, Oregon, and Washington, saw migration en masse as those states became industrialized and people moved for new jobs, Gregory said.
Meanwhile, major manufacturing hubs in the Midwest, like Detroit, continued to grow in size and scale, drawing lots of new residents, especially out of the South.
This trend continued into the 1960s, coinciding with the later stages of the Great Migration, as Black Americans fled racist Jim Crow laws and white liberals sought political like-mindedness in the North, according to Gregory.
Migration started to slow by the 1970s
Americans’ restlessness ceased in the mid-70s as the economy tanked and deindustrialization began, leading to a loss of tens of thousands of factory and mining jobs, Gregory said.
US regions, regardless of their locale, became increasingly similar to one another, lessening the need to move for a specific job.
The reorganization of the American political economy from industry to service-oriented — one that emphasizes services such as transportation, education, and finance, as opposed to providing manufactured goods — meant the economy of one place mirrored the economy of another more closely, creating more occupational opportunities closer to home, according to Gregory.
The US population also began to age as the 20th century progressed. More people bought homes, and more households became dual-income — all factors that kept more people grounded in one place, according to The Brookings Institution.
Internal migration has continued to slow since the 1970s
The Census Bureau’s current population survey has tracked domestic movement every year since the 1947-1948 cycle. According to the data, overall migration fell to about 17% in the 1980s; to about 16% in the 1990s; and to about 14% in the early 2000s.
It takes money to move. The Great Recession in 2008 hobbled the economy and slowed migration, sending the overall rate to 11 or 12%, according to census data.
More than a decade later, the COVID-19 pandemic slashed internal US migration even further. While the US Census didn’t publish an official migration rate for 2020 because of high rates of nonresponse, Brookings used several tabulations of various Census data to estimate the overall rate for 2020 through 2021 was 8.4% — the lowest in 75 years.
As the country locked down and jobs increasingly went remote, people stayed home and stopped moving.
Long-distance moves are on the up
While the overall migration rate is low, big moves are slowly on the rise.
Cross-country moves from one state to another, like the tens of thousands of Californians who fled the Golden State for Texas between 2021 and 2022, are becoming more commonplace, according to census data and realtors.
The American Community Survey, which tracks the country’s changing demographics, found state-to-state movers comprised a larger share of all movers between 2021 and 2022, with an increase from 18.8% to 19.9%, according to census data. About 8.2 million people moved states in 2022 — continuing the trend of increasing state-to-state migration since 2006.
Americans are moving for better jobs and affordable homes
Realtors across three states told Business Insider that more of their clients are increasingly out-of-state movers.
As many companies return to in-person work, more people are once again making big moves for employment reasons.
Matthew Bank, a New York-based real-estate agent who specializes in cooperative apartments and condos, said he’s seen an uptick in people moving to the state from places like Georgia and California in recent months.
“It seems to me that the people who are moving have taken jobs in New York,” Bank said.
Rose Kemp, the president of the Orlando Regional Realtor Association, said she works primarily with millennials who are moving into and around Florida.
Younger people are more likely to make big moves, according to census data. The Annual Social and Economic Supplement of the Current Population Survey in 2023 found 17% of Gen Z adults moved, compared to just 11% of millennials and 5% of Gen X.
Texas, the second-most sought-after destination for migrators, saw more than 668,300 people moving into the state between 2021 and 2022, with millennials and Gen Zers representing the largest share at 40.5% and 29.9%, respectively, according to Business Insider analysis of individual-level data from the Census Bureau’s 2022 American Community Survey, assembled by the University of Minnesota’s IPUMS program.
Marie Bailey, a real-estate agent outside Dallas said she works with a lot of Californians who have moved to the state for a better shot at affording homeownership.
“We have a lot of first-time homebuyers that would have never been able to afford a home in California,” Bailey said.