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

October 2 • 9:00 AM

For Memory, Curiosity Is Its Own Reward

A new study suggests a neural link between curiosity, motivation, and memory.


October 2 • 8:00 AM

Can Prisons Predict Which Inmates Will Try to Escape?

And what can they do to prevent it?


October 2 • 6:00 AM

How Do We Know Our Environmental Laws Are Working?

Ask a great white shark.


October 2 • 5:00 AM

Give Us This Day Our Daily Brands

Researchers find identifying with brand-name products reduces religiosity.


October 2 • 4:00 AM

Why Can’t Anyone Break the Women’s Marathon Record?

Paula Radcliffe set the world record in 2003. Since then? No one’s come within three minutes of her mark.


October 1 • 2:00 PM

Most People With Addiction Simply Grow Out of It. Why Is This Widely Denied?

The idea that addiction is typically a chronic, progressive disease that requires treatment is false, the evidence shows. Yet the “aging out” experience of the majority is ignored by treatment providers and journalists.


October 1 • 1:00 PM

Midlife Neuroticism Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease in Old Age

New research from Sweden suggests that the personality dimension is connected to who ultimately suffers from late-in-life dementia.



October 1 • 11:11 AM

The Creative Class Boondoggle in Downtown Las Vegas

On Tony Hsieh and the pseudoscience of “collisions.”


October 1 • 9:14 AM

Mysterious Resting State Networks Might Be What Allow Different Brain Therapies to Work

Deep brain stimulation and similar treatments target the hubs of larger resting-state networks in the brain, researchers find.


October 1 • 6:00 AM

Would You Like a Subscription With Your Coffee?

A new app hopes to unite local coffee shops while helping you find a cheap cup of good coffee.


October 1 • 4:00 AM

How to Plant a Library

Somewhere outside of Oslo, there are 1,000 newly planted spruce trees. One hundred years from now, if everything goes to plan, they’ll be published together as 100 pieces of art.



September 30 • 10:09 AM

Trust Is Waning, and Inequality May Be to Blame

Trust in others and confidence in institutions is declining, while economic inequality creeps up, a new study shows.


September 30 • 8:00 AM

The Psychology of Penmanship

Graphology: It’s all (probably) bunk.



September 30 • 6:00 AM

The Medium Is the Message, 50 Years Later

Five decades on, what can Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media tell us about today?


September 30 • 4:00 AM

Grad School’s Mental Health Problem

Navigating the emotional stress of doctoral programs in a down market.


September 29 • 1:21 PM

Conference Call: Free Will Conference


September 29 • 12:00 PM

How Copyright Law Protects Art From Criticism

A case for allowing the copyright on Gone With the Wind to expire.


September 29 • 10:00 AM

Should We Be Told Who Funds Political Attack Ads?

On the value of campaign finance disclosure.


September 29 • 8:00 AM

Searching for a Man Named Penis

A quest to track down a real Penis proves difficult.


September 29 • 6:00 AM

Why Do So Many People Watch HGTV?

The same reason so many people watch NCIS or Law and Order: It’s all a procedural.


September 29 • 4:00 AM

The Link Between Depression and Terrorism

A new study from the United Kingdom finds a connection between depression and radicalization.


September 26 • 4:00 PM

Fast Track to a Spill?

Oil pipeline projects across America are speeding forward without environmental review.


Follow us


For Memory, Curiosity Is Its Own Reward

A new study suggests a neural link between curiosity, motivation, and memory.

Mysterious Resting State Networks Might Be What Allow Different Brain Therapies to Work

Deep brain stimulation and similar treatments target the hubs of larger resting-state networks in the brain, researchers find.

Trust Is Waning, and Inequality May Be to Blame

Trust in others and confidence in institutions is declining, while economic inequality creeps up, a new study shows.

Dopamine Might Be Behind Impulsive Behavior

A monkey study suggests the brain chemical makes what's new and different more attractive.

School Counselors Do More Than You’d Think

Adding just one counselor to a school has an enormous impact on discipline and test scores, according to a new study.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

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