America is on the move

Wherever I travel, I ask myself if I could live wherever I’ve found myself. Is the food good? How are the parks? Are the people friendly? And most importantly, can I find a job I like and a decent place to live? Now that we are in prime summer vacation season, perhaps other Americans are asking the same question at their holiday destinations.

As the effects of the financial crisis are waning and housing prices have largely rebounded, Americans are again on the move. On top of this, many struggling cities are seeing population growth for the first time in decades and employers are following along.

We’re curious where and why Americans are packing up and moving. With some creative number crunching with Census Bureau migration data and beautiful mapping applications we built a few tools to visualize migration patterns. 

First, we tackle the simple matter of showing which cities are attracting more people than they are losing. Because cities are complex creatures and have an influence far beyond “downtown”, we used migration data from each of the 374 metropolitan areas (called “MSAs”) across the country to calculate the number of people that moved in and out to arrive at a net migration value.

The map below displays net domestic migration for each metro area. There are clear source and destination clusters. Check out the the industrial Midwest and Northeast — massive out migration. Meanwhile, parts of the South, Texas and Pacific Northwest are attracting many new residents from other parts of the country. Don’t forget about Puerto Rico — the debt crisis and economic malaise are driving a lot of Puerto Ricans to the mainland.

What surprises do you see? Columbus, Ohio and Des Moines, Iowa were surely not on my up-and-coming radar although both have large, well-regarded public universities that are attracting the region’s best students and, critically, providing opportunities and amenities to convince them to stay after graduation.

To me, the biggest surprise is the decline in large coastal cities in the Northeast and California. As a resident of Philadelphia and a frequent visitor to cities up and down the Northeast Corridor, LA and SF, the energy on the streets and sky-high housing costs seem to indicate an unstoppable resurgence.

So why are more people leaving large, established cities than are moving in? Well, one hypothesis could be that the sky-high prices and endless energy are deterring more people than they attract. Perhaps people who are moving to cities are wealthier and live in less-dense housing than residents who are leaving. This is definitely a question we will attempt to answer using predictive models and algorithms in the next phase of the project. (We’re really excited about this part!)

Having established which metro areas are growing or shrinking, we really wanted to know: “Ok, so where are Americans moving from?” and the inverse: “Where are Americans moving to?” The interactive map below shows exactly that. Pick your favorite (or least) metro area and select either Incoming or Outgoing migration change. Any surprises?

Most metro areas aren’t attracting too many people from far away. A long-distance move is certainly not the norm. There are a few exceptions, however. Take a look at the incoming migration to Atlanta —  thousands of people are fleeing NYC, DC, LA, SF, and Chicago for Atlanta.



This is just the beginning of our look into Americans’ migration patterns. Over the next few weeks we will be modeling the drivers to moving and embark on a deep-dive into one metro area to identify prime business opportunities using a site suitability analysis.

So while enjoying your summer vacation be sure to ask yourself if it’s somewhere you can live. You might end up moving there.

If you want to look under the hood, the source code is available here.