Moving in the USA: Domestic Migration Before and After the Recession

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Written by:
Ben Bolender, Population Estimates Branch
Peter Borsella, Net International Migration Branch
Luke Rogers, Population Estimates Branch
Sam Garrow, Population Estimates Branch

Have you ever moved? If so, was it to a new state? Was it to a new county? Where we move has a big impact on our lives. In the same way, where people move can have a big impact on the United States. In many areas, it drives population change, and it can affect things from jobs, to services, to local infrastructure like buildings and roads.

Because it’s so important, we spend a lot of time measuring this movement when we create the U.S. Census Bureau’s official population estimates. Demographers call it “domestic migration,” and we get a lot of information about it from addresses reported on other government sources like Internal Revenue Service returns and Medicare enrollment (though if you’re interested, you can find Current Population Survey and American Community Survey migration data on In 2014, about 18.9 million people moved between counties in the U.S., which is slightly down from about 19.1 million the year before.

Just as people moving around can have big impacts on social and economic events, the reverse is also true – social and economic events can influence migration. Take the Great Recession for example, which occurred from 2007 to 2009. We can see real differences in migration patterns across the country if we look at 2006 (the year before the recession) and numbers from our most recent estimates.

Below, we show two county-level maps that highlight areas with a net gain or loss of people through domestic migration in 2014. The counties that switched the net direction of their migration from 2006 to 2014 are shown in dark blue, whereas counties that gained or lost in both years are the middle blue.

Not including counties affected by Hurricane Katrina, the gaining county that shifted the most between the two years was San Diego, Calif. It lost almost 38,000 people through domestic migration in 2006. In 2014, it gained about 2,500. Broward County, Fla., also experienced a big shift, going from a loss of 27,000 to a gain of 2,400 in the same periods. From the map, we see several areas where gains were consistent in both years — Central Florida, some metropolitan counties in Texas, Northern Virginia and parts of the West. Other counties, like those in the central and northern Great Plains, seem like their gains popped up out of nowhere. While the pattern may seem unusual, it’s good to keep in mind that many of these shifts are fairly small (often less than a couple hundred either way). For example, Jackson County, Kan., changed from a loss of 24 to a gain of 126.

Map comparing net domestic migration in 2006 and 2014

On the flip side, we can look at areas that lost people through migration in 2014. The biggest shift here was in Will County, Ill., which went from a gain of 17,000 in 2006 to a loss of about 2,900 in 2014. Again, a lot of the shifts this direction are small. Only three counties’ migration numbers changed by more than 10,000 (the other two being East Baton Rouge, La., and Kern, Calif.). Net loss counties are often located in rural areas in the Northeast and Midwest, and 2014 shows a number of new counties following that trend. We do see a few big changes, though, like many Nevada counties losing people through migration, where they were gaining them just eight years before. As you can see, social and economic trends, like the recession, often go along with changes in where people move.

Map comparing net domestic migration, counties with loss in 2014

Last week, the Census Bureau released a variety of migration data from the Current Population Survey, American Community Survey, and the Survey of Income and Program Participation. See the Random Samplings blog for more information.


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Trading Spaces: Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?

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Written by: Alison Fields

Most people move at some point in their life. The average American changes his or her residence 11.3 times. We are all in motion. The nation does not stand still.

Major transitions in our lives are often accompanied by a residential move. Many people wrestle with the decision. Do I stay? Do I move?

Can I afford to own a home? Does my neighborhood still feel safe? I want to live closer to my family, but will my commute be too long? Will I have more job options if I move to a new city? Is there some place I would be happier?

The answers to those questions are never concrete, altered by every action and reaction that constitutes each day in a life. We attempt to make our best guess, using the information that we have available.

Most of the time we are only thinking of how these moves affect us, our immediate family, our jobs, our finances. We do not think about how these individual migration decisions affect the larger community of service providers, schools, employers, transportation planners and governments. Each of these entities attempts to use the data available to make the best guess as to whether you will move and how that choice will affect you and them.

Just less than 12 percent of the population of the United States moves to a new residence each year. Multiply your complex decision process of whether to change residences by about 35 million – or the estimated number of movers between 2013 and 2014, according to the Current Population Survey. The result is an unfathomable combination of discrete decision processes.  Anyone considering a move knows it can be a difficult decision with lots of planning involved. The same is true for those measuring migration, as we try to meet the challenges of anticipating the who, when and where of moving.PostBlogGraphic

This week, the Census Bureau released a set of data products on geographical mobility. The products provide insight on the dynamics of residential moves and some of the reasons that people choose to, or choose not, to move. Each demonstrates the breadth of information on migration available while highlighting a unique aspect of three different surveys.

The majority of the data released this week, and the most current, come from the Current Population Survey, which has provided a measure of the nation’s yearly migration rate since 1948. Its strength is in its consistency and longevity — it measures the reasons people move and the physical distance of those moves. The American Community Survey measures annual migration and it enables examination of your community as well as progress and change at a local level. The Survey of Income and Program Participation is a longitudinal panel survey. Collecting data from the same households over several years provides a unique portrait of the true dynamics of the movement decision process. Over time, it shows what factors propel us in one direction or another.

The trading of space, or the flow between an old residence and a new residence, is another dimension of the movement process. The Census Bureau collects this type of data across these surveys and provides aggregate flows for certain geographies. Depending on your interest, you can examine moves between states, moves between counties, and later this year, moves between metropolitan areas. The Census Flows Mapper, based on American Community Survey data, is a unique visual tool that allows you to map county-to-county flows, with and without unique characteristics.

Knowing the number and some details about movers in and out of a place is part of information on the population that helps the federal government plan for emergency services following natural disasters. State and local planners use migration data for population forecasting and deciding where to put new hospitals, libraries and public schools. Private businesses use it to plan for opening new offices and stores for jobs and commerce. How you think about the decision to move affects not only you but also how well your community and your nation can serve your needs. The information you provide is critical to the health and welfare of this “nation on the move.”

Learn more about the information you provide on migration, which assists in national and local decision-making and forecasting, at In addition, if you are looking to move, the Census Bureau has an app for that. Download dwellr today to find your ideal place.

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Still Moving, But Why?

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Written By: David Ihrke

Between 2013 and 2014, 35.7 million people age 1 and over moved to a different residence in the United States. This represents about one-ninth of the population about the population of Texas and New Jersey combined (35.9 million). The mover rate, measured as the percentage of the population that moved over a one-year period, was 11.5 percent for 2014.The migration statistics released today tell us how many people are moving, the type of move, characteristics of movers and why they moved. According to the estimates, about two-thirds of all moves were within the same county last year, while just under one-third were to different counties and about three percent were from abroad.

Among movers, the type of move varied by education level, as people with a college degree were more likely to move to a different county or from abroad  than people with lower educational attainment. For instance, 36.5 percent of movers 25 and older who had a bachelor’s, graduate or professional degree moved between counties, compared with 25.1 percent of movers without a high school degree. While a small portion of movers came to the United States from abroad (3.2 percent), those who had a bachelor’s, graduate or professional degree comprised 47.8 percent of movers from abroad. Only 17.4 percent of movers 25 and older from abroad were without a high school degree.

Motivations for moving also varied by schooling. Among college-educated movers, the top two reasons for moving were for a new job or job transfer and for a new or better home/apartment at 15.7 percent each (Figure 1). These estimates were not statistically different from each other. Other important reasons included to establish their own household (10.4 percent) and wanted to own their home rather than rent (7.9 percent).


Movers who did not graduate from high school reported different reasons. Compared with college-educated movers, a smaller percentage moved for a new job or job transfer (6.1 percent) or because they wanted to own their home rather than rent (3 percent). A larger percentage wanted cheaper housing or cited other family reasons.

Statistics featured in this blog come from the Geographical Mobility: 2013 to 2014 Detailed Tables based on the Annual Social and Economic Supplement of the Current Population Survey. These tables contain national and regional level data along with an assortment of characteristics of movers and nonmovers. They also include the main reason for moving, regional migration flows and distance moved (only calculated for people who moved to a different county).

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Understanding Population Density

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Written by: Darryl Cohen

While the United States population density is about 90 people per square mile, most people live in cities, which have a much higher density. Even among cities, density values can vary considerably from one city to another.

Population density allows for broad comparison of settlement intensity across geographic areas. In the U.S., population density is typically expressed as the number of people per square mile of land area. The U.S. value is calculated by dividing the total U.S. population (316 million in 2013) by the total U.S. land area (3.5 million square miles).

In a broad sense, this number tells us how many people would live within one square mile if the U.S. population were evenly distributed across its land area. In reality, however, we know that population is not evenly distributed across space. People tend to cluster in cities, and those who live in rural areas are spread out across a much more sparsely populated landscape.

While the population density inside U.S. cities (about 1,600 people per square mile) is much greater than that of unincorporated areas (about 35 people per square mile), density levels still vary quite a bit from city to city, and even across different neighborhoods within a single city.

For example, New York City’s density value (almost 28,000 people per square mile) is notably higher than that of Los Angeles (about 8,300 people per square mile). Within New York City, we find that residential neighborhoods with high-rise apartments and condos are much more densely populated than neighborhoods that consist of detached, single-family housing units. The Co-op City neighborhood in the Bronx has density levels that are greater than 33,000 people per square mile. Its high-rise development pattern differs considerably from that of Staten Island, where the overall density is about 8,000 people per square mile

When comparing population density values for different geographic areas, then, it is helpful to keep in mind that the values are most useful for small areas, such as neighborhoods. For larger areas (especially at the state or country scale), overall population density values are less likely to provide a meaningful measure of the density levels at which people actually live, but can be useful for comparing settlement intensity across geographies of similar scale.

For more information on this topic, see the report, Population Trends in Incorporated Places: 2000 to 2013, as well as Patterns of Metropolitan and Micropolitan Population Change: 2000 to 2010.

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New Population Projections Account for Differences in Fertility of Native- and Foreign-Born Women

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By Sandra L. Colby and Jennifer M. Ortman

Last December, the U.S. Census Bureau released its latest series of national population projections, providing perspective on the future composition of the nation’s population. A new report released today explores these projections. It uses current data, along with past trends in fertility, mortality and international migration, to anticipate changes in the population in the years to come.

This series of projections is the first to distinguish between the fertility of native- and foreign-born women, which allows us to make separate assumptions about how the fertility of women in each of these groups will change over time. Incorporating different fertility rates for women based on their nativity, which are consistent with past and present trends in fertility, is intended to improve Census Bureau projections of both births and the population.

Researchers, policymakers, businesses and other government agencies use population projections and the components of change (births, deaths and net migration) for planning purposes. For example, projections of births are of potential interest to those associated with the child care industry, while projections of the population under age 18 can be used by those tasked with planning for future demands on the education system.

Here is a look at the fertility assumptions used to produce the projections:

The total fertility rate is a measure used by demographers to estimate the average number of children women would have by the end of their reproductive years, assuming that they bore children according to a given set of age-specific fertility rates (the number of births during a year to women in a particular age group).

In 2014, the fertility rate in the projections was 1.85 for the total population, but this number masks considerable variation in the rates of foreign- and native-born women (see table). In the United States, foreign-born women have historically had higher fertility rates when compared with native-born women. This is reflected in the fertility assumptions used to produce the national projections. For instance, the fertility rate for foreign-born women in 2014 was 2.59 compared with 1.71 for native-born women.


There is also variation in fertility rates by Hispanic origin. In 2014, the fertility rate for all Hispanic women in the projections was 2.13 compared with 1.78 for all non-Hispanics. Of all women, foreign-born Hispanic women were projected to have the highest fertility rate throughout the projections series, at 3.16 in 2014 and 2.58 in 2050.

Projected births are calculated by applying these fertility rates to the projected female population. The share of projected births for any group reflects both the fertility rate for that group and the size of the population to which the rates are applied. Although fertility rates are higher for foreign-born women, the number of births projected to occur is lower than the number to native-born women.

Foreign-born women are projected to represent a smaller share of the total female population in the ages 14 to 54. In addition, foreign-born Hispanic women are projected to have the highest fertility rates. However, they are projected to contribute only 13.5 million, or just under 9 percent, of all births between 2014 and 2050. The relatively small share of births to women in this group is because they represented only 7.8 percent of the total female population in the reproductive ages in 2014 and 6.8 percent in 2050. Even though each woman in this group is projected to have more children on average, the collective number of children born to the group is small.

Learn more about how the U.S. population is projected to change by viewing the 2014 national population projections at:


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