Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Go East, Young Man (Oh, You Already Are)

• September 24, 2009 • 12:00 PM

Fleeing congestion and high taxes, America’s internal migrants must have Horace Greeley spinning in his grave.

Get your pens. Write it down. Something big has happened.

The westward expansion of the United States is over.

The phrase “Go West, young man,” attributed to New York newspaperman Horace Greeley that heralded movement of people, livestock, capital and ideas across a continent has reached its logical conclusion.

After two centuries of westward expansion, with California being a choice settling spot (there was no more continental west, after all), general U.S. migration patterns now are changing.

It seems parts of the West have become what the settlers were leaving: too crowded, too expensive and lacking in opportunity.

The general pattern reversed over the last decade, with the main out-migration occurring in California, according to a study released Wednesday by the University of Kansas School of Business.

Art Hall, executive director of the Center for Applied Economics at the school, said the findings are interesting because they show “a reverse of manifest destiny” and the end of the era. But there’s a lot more intriguing data to be found in the study, which charts county-to-county migration of taxpayers from 1995 to 2006.

Here are a few tidbits:

• Americans are quite mobile; about 14 million people move a year in the United States, creating the approximate equivalent of every taxpaying household in Florida moving across a county line every year.

• There’s a population shift from large metropolitan areas (cities the size of Los Angeles and Chicago) to cities with populations of 1 to 2 million.

• People are moving to coastal areas (other than California), including the Great Lakes and other inland water bodies and areas with environmental amenities.

• The trend of out-migration from the Great Plains continues, although there is a counter-trend of regional urbanization.

• There is a strong net flow of people from large metro areas to rural areas, towns and cities of around 300,000; this group tends to have higher incomes.

• Nevada and Arizona in-migration has been strong, with Arizona averaging an additional 30,000 taxpayers a year over the period and Nevada averaging more than 20,000.

• California lost more than 36,000 taxpayers a year over the period while Florida (with its coastal areas and comparatively lower cost of living) gained an average of 63,000 a year.

Hall said there’s a host of different reasons people are moving, but “the statistics say, all else being equal, they’re moving to places with lower taxes.” (However, he adds, like the economist he is, “all things are never equal — it’s not as satisfying as finding a silver bullet, but it’s an important thing to know.”)

He noted people “want amenities but don’t want the congestion of big cities.” He said part of it is “what people perceive they’re getting for their money. No one wants to pay five-star prices for three-star services.”

He said he is particularly surprised by the income growth in southern Tennessee and added that another growth area is Huntsville, Ala. — “a very vibrant tech center.” Other states experiencing strong in-migration are Virginia and Maryland, due to growth in government, high-tech and biotech sectors.

The Carolinas are attracting retirees, and growth in and around Atlanta is creating Georgia’s in-migration, he said.

Washington and Oregon have seen consistent population increase over the study period, as well as other western states, including Colorado, Idaho and Montana.

Data were only available through 2006, so any trends resulting from the recession are not reflected in the study. However, when asked if he thought the out-migration from California would have grown in the last few years, Hall said “the patterns would look very similar, although the volumes could be bigger.”

“People were leaving the state before the real crisis hit,” he said. “A lot of it was raw costs — people couldn’t afford to live there.”

The study found, however, that income levels on the California coastline have remained consistent. “Even though people are moving, income is still flowing to the California coast,” he said.

Some things never change.

Sign up for our free e-newsletter.

Are you on Facebook? Become our fan.

Follow us on Twitter.

Add our news to your site.

Joan Melcher
Joan Melcher is a freelance writer and editor living in Missoula, Montana. Her work ranges from travel magazine articles to stories on breaking research.

More From Joan Melcher

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

December 18 • 12:00 PM

The Paradox of Choice, 10 Years Later

Paul Hiebert talks to psychologist Barry Schwartz about how modern trends—social media, FOMO, customer review sites—fit in with arguments he made a decade ago in his highly influential book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less.


December 18 • 10:00 AM

What It’s Like to Spend a Few Hours in the Church of Scientology

Wrestling with thetans, attempting to unlock a memory bank, and a personality test seemingly aimed at people with depression. This is Scientology’s “dissemination drill” for potential new members.


December 18 • 8:00 AM

Gendering #BlackLivesMatter: A Feminist Perspective

Black men are stereotyped as violent, while black women are rendered invisible. Here’s why the gendering of black lives matters.


December 18 • 7:06 AM

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.


December 18 • 6:00 AM

The Very Weak and Complicated Links Between Mental Illness and Gun Violence

Vanderbilt University’s Jonathan Metzl and Kenneth MacLeish address our anxieties and correct our assumptions.


December 18 • 4:00 AM

Should Movies Be Rated RD for Reckless Driving?

A new study finds a link between watching films featuring reckless driving and engaging in similar behavior years later.


December 17 • 4:00 PM

How to Run a Drug Dealing Network in Prison

People tend not to hear about the prison drug dealing operations that succeed. Substance.com asks a veteran of the game to explain his system.


December 17 • 2:00 PM

Gender Segregation of Toys Is on the Rise

Charting the use of “toys for boys” and “toys for girls” in American English.


December 17 • 12:41 PM

Why the College Football Playoff Is Terrible But Better Than Before

The sample size is still embarrassingly small, but at least there’s less room for the availability cascade.


December 17 • 11:06 AM

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.


December 17 • 10:37 AM

A Public Lynching in Sproul Plaza

When photographs of lynching victims showed up on a hallowed site of democracy in action, a provocation was issued—but to whom, by whom, and why?


December 17 • 8:00 AM

What Was the Job?

This was the year the job broke, the year we accepted a re-interpretation of its fundamental bargain and bought in to the push to get us to all work for ourselves rather than each other.


December 17 • 6:00 AM

White Kids Will Be Kids

Even the “good” kids—bound for college, upwardly mobile—sometimes break the law. The difference? They don’t have much to fear. A professor of race and social movements reflects on her teenage years and faces some uncomfortable realities.



December 16 • 4:00 PM

How Fear of Occupy Wall Street Undermined the Red Cross’ Sandy Relief Effort

Red Cross responders say there was a ban on working with the widely praised Occupy Sandy relief group because it was seen as politically unpalatable.


December 16 • 3:30 PM

Murder! Mayhem! And That’s Just the Cartoons!

New research suggests deaths are common features of animated features aimed at children.


December 16 • 1:43 PM

In Tragedy, Empathy Still Dependent on Proximity

In spite of an increasingly connected world, in the face of adversity, a personal touch is most effective.


December 16 • 12:00 PM

The ‘New York Times’ Is Hooked on Drug du Jour Journalism

For the paper of record, addiction is always about this drug or that drug rather than the real causes.


December 16 • 10:00 AM

What Is the Point of Academic Books?

Ultimately, they’re meant to disseminate knowledge. But their narrow appeal makes them expensive to produce and harder to sell.


December 16 • 8:00 AM

Unjust and Unwell: The Racial Issues That Could Be Affecting Your Health Care

Physicians and medical students have the same problems with implicit bias as the rest of us.


December 16 • 6:00 AM

If You Get Confused Just Listen to the Music Play

Healing the brain with the Grateful Dead.


December 16 • 4:00 AM

Another Casualty of the Great Recession: Trust

Research from Britain finds people who were laid off from their jobs expressed lower levels of generalized trust.


December 15 • 4:00 PM

When Charter Schools Are Non-Profit in Name Only

Some charters pass along nearly all their money to for-profit companies hired to manage the schools. It’s an arrangement that’s raising eyebrows.


December 15 • 2:00 PM

No More Space Race

A far cry from the fierce Cold War Space Race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, exploration in the 21st century is likely to be a much more globally collaborative project.


December 15 • 12:32 PM

The Hidden Psychology of the Home Ref

That old myth of home field bias isn’t a myth at all; it’s a statistical fact.


Follow us


Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.

The Hidden Psychology of the Home Ref

That old myth of home field bias isn’t a myth at all; it’s a statistical fact.

A Word of Caution to the Holiday Deal-Makers

Repeat customers—with higher return rates and real bargain-hunting prowess—can have negative effects on a company’s net earnings.

Crowdfunding Works for Science

Scientists just need to put forth some effort.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.