Biggest Drivers of Interstate Migration: New Jobs, Housing Affordability

Retirement remains the chief motivation for moves in and out of several states, according to the latest United Van Lines study.

By Ed Prince

Relocating for a new job and the search for affordable housing were the biggest factors in Americans’ interstate migration in 2023, a study by a major moving company reveals.

United Van Lines reports in its 47th Annual National Movers Study that Americans last year moved eastward and southward and relocated to less-expensive areas with amenities comparable to those of larger metropolitan areas. The study is based on a survey of United Van Lines customers who moved from state to state.

For the third year in a row, the state with the highest percentage of incoming movers versus those leaving was Vermont, with inbound moves accounting for 65% of total shipments. Among those moving to Vermont, 29% said they wanted to be closer to family, and 20% said they wanted a lifestyle change. Rural Vermont has the second-lowest population in the nation.

For the sixth consecutive year, the state with the highest percentage of outbound movers — 69% — was New Jersey. The top reason given by those leaving the most densely populated state (27%) was retirement.

Conversely, Florida had the highest percentage of inbound movers who listed retirement as their motivation — 69%. The Sunshine State was 13th in percentage of inbound movers in 2023.

United Van Lines’ ranking of state migration is based on in-state percentages, not a comparison of the total numbers of each state. For example, top-ranked Vermont had 249 shipments in 2023. Of those 163, or 65.46%, were inbound. South Carolina, which ranked third, had a total of 4,273 shipments. Of those 2,701, or 63.21%, were inbound.

Tracing trends back to COVID

In a separate analysis of the United Van Lines data, Orphe Divounguy, senior economist at Zillow, says the numbers show that distortions to the housing market caused by the COVID-19 pandemic continue to drive Americans’ interstate moves.

Movers tend to go to metro areas that are less expensive and have less competition from other home buyers, Divounguy writes, adding that this trend has increased in recent years as housing affordability has declined. The pandemic-driven increase in home values and the recent increase in mortgage rates have intensified the search for more affordable housing, he says.

Southeast states continue to lure movers, according to United Van Lines. Garnering high percentages of inbound movers were South Carolina (No. 3 with 63%), North Carolina (No. 5 with 60%), and Alabama (No. 8 with 60%).

Joining the list of top-10 inbound states in 2023 were Arkansas (No. 4 with 60%) and West Virginia (No. 10 with 58%).

Among movers who chose South Carolina, the top reasons given were retirement, 26.8%; lifestyle change, 18.0%; and improved cost of living, 6.4%.

Southern metros gain while New York metros lose

The United Van Lines study also looked at metropolitan statistical areas, and here again, southern regions were big gainers in net migration.

The No. 1 metro area for inflow was Myrtle Beach, S.C., with 84% of movers inbound and 16% outbound. No. 2 was Wilmington, N.C., where 83% of movers were inbound.

The three metro areas with the highest outflow were all clustered around New York City. Experiencing the largest loss was New York’s Nassau-Suffolk area, where 78% of movers were outbound. Second was New Jersey’s Bergen-Passaic, at 77%, and third was Monmouth-Ocean, also in New Jersey, at 71%.

Additional Reading: Moving Is a Monumental Task For Many Older Americans

“We are continuing to see the trend that Americans are moving to more affordable, lower-density areas across the country, with many heading to Southern states,” says Eily Cummings, United Van Lines Vice President of Corporate Communications. “Movers are also becoming more strategic with their planning, as relocation continues to be driven by factors such as the price of housing, regional climates, urban planning and job growth.”

Divounguy’s independent analysis of the 2023 data backs this up, finding that movers relocated to metro areas where a home would save them, on average, about $7,500 compared to where they came from. Divounguy notes that movers who use United Van Lines services tend to be older and have higher incomes than other movers, but he says Census data shows a similar pattern.

Michael A. Stoll, an economist and a professor in the Department of Public Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, agrees that the pandemic has influenced migration patterns. Many movers are taking advantage of the opportunity to work remotely while being driven by the desire to be closer to family and find better affordability, he says.

“Some Americans may be faced with economic uncertainty, coupled with an increased cost of living and lack of affordable housing,” Stoll says in the United Van Lines report. “This can result in adjustments to moving timelines or people making interstate moves, rather than across states.”

The biggest driver: jobs

According to the report, career change is the leading motivation behind migration patterns and across all regions, with 29% of movers relocating for a new job or company transfer.

Other motivations — including wanting to be closer to family (27%) and retirement (14%) —declined compared to 2022 as movers increasingly weighed location preferences, the cost of living, and affordable housing, the report states.

While metro regions around New York City experienced some of the highest outflows, an outbound moving trend also continued in the Midwest and West. Among the states with the highest outflows were Illinois (61%), Michigan (58%) and California (58%).

North Dakota (61%) and Kansas (55%) joined the top outbound states last year.

Jobs were the big driver of moves to Washington, D.C., which was No. 2 on the list of states with the highest inflow. Out of 996 moves to and from the District of Columbia, 630, or 63.25%, were inbound. The top reason given (60.00%) was new job or company transfer.

“Washington D.C.’s popularity is definitely on the rise, going from seventh place in 2022 to the runner-up spot last year,” United Van Lines says in a supplementary report.

Noting that approximately 40% of the workforce in Washington, D.C., is employed by the government, the report says moves there typically cycle with presidential elections.

“We expect this trend to continue into 2024,” the authors write.

The biggest gainers and losers

According to United Van Lines, the top inbound states of 2023, with percentage of incoming movers, were:

  1. Vermont 65.46%
  2. Washington, D.C. 63.25%
  3. South Carolina 63.21%
  4. Arkansas 60.16%
  5. Rhode Island 60.12%
  6. North Carolina 60.08%
  7. South Dakota 59.76%
  8. Alabama 59.70%
  9. New Mexico 59.58%
  10. West Virginia 58.31%

The top outbound states for 2023, with the percentage of departing movers, were:

  1. New Jersey, 64.85%
  2. Illinois, 61.28%
  3. North Dakota, 60.69%
  4. New York, 59.98%
  5. Michigan, 58.37%
  6. California, 57.53%
  7. Massachusetts, 56.58%
  8. Kansas, 54.89%

In a four-decade career in journalism, Ed Prince has served as an editor with many of New Jersey’s leading newspapers, including the Star-Ledger, Asbury Park Press and Home News Tribune.








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