Careers and climate change have Americans on the move: Here are the top 10 states people are leaving (and where they are going)
Americans are packing their bags (and ordering a moving truck) and leaving behind their home states — and flocking to new lodgings in other parts of the country.
Moving company United Van Lines released its 45th Annual National Movers Study in January, which provides data on the number of people who joined or left each state last year.
While work remains the No. 1 reason for leaving, with almost a third of movers exiting their state to pursue a new job opportunity or transfer — it’s a significant decrease from 2015, when over 60% of Americans cited work as their primary reason.
With about 40% of Americans considering a move this year, it’s worth noting where people have been going and why.
The United Van Lines study found that about 32% of movers were motivated to live closer to their families, a new migration trend that’s been influenced in part by the COVID-19 pandemic. Fast forward to this year, a Forbes study found that nearly a third of Americans surveyed cited climate change and worsening weather conditions as a reason to move in 2022.
Here are the states where Americans are packing up and leaving, followed by the ones they’re driving that moving van to.
Outbound moves: 55.7%
Nebraska made it to the top 10 for states Americans were fleeing last year — KMTV reports the Cornhusker State loses around 2,000 residents a year due to “brain drain.”
College-educated adults are moving out of Nebraska for better jobs and pay, and looking at larger cities with more to offer, according to David Drozd, research coordinator at UNO’s Center for Public Affairs.
Nearly 42% of movers pointed to work opportunities as their primary reason for departing the state.
Some people also find the weather a nuisance. “Our winters are very cold … What is worse than the cold itself is the wind. 20 degrees with a strong wind from the west can chill you to the bone. When it gets into the single digits with a strong wind, it is hard to deal with. I have had to jump start batteries in that kind of weather, and it is not fun,” writes Keith Rockefeller on Quora.
Outbound moves: 56.3%
Ohio didn’t change spots from last year’s ranking, remaining one of the states with the largest outflows.
A new job or job transfer is the number one reason for Ohio’s outbound moves, but 28% of Buckeye movers say it was retirement that prompted them to relocate elsewhere.
The state might boast a relatively low cost of living, but some say the erratic weather can be an issue.
“110 degrees in the summer with 90% humidity. Then a couple weeks of autumn weather. I missed the changing foliage. Then straight into frigid winter. We got what they called a polar vortex. It was -10 degrees for six weeks. I had seven feet of snow in my drive. Then a couple weeks of spring weather, and right back into the brutal summer,” recounts Quora user Curtis Williams, who says he used to reside in Elkhorn, Blair and Tekamah.
Outbound moves: 56.5%
Residents in the Pelican State are eager to escape the sweltering heat and low income opportunities.
An overwhelming majority of movers pointed to work as their primary reason for getting out of Louisiana — more than 30 percentage points higher than the second biggest motivator (family). And nearly half of movers were under the age of 45.
“Everyone I know has left. Low pay and not many opportunities especially if you aren’t aiming for oil field,” writes cain261 on Reddit.
Outbound moves: 57.6%
The Bay State might be renowned for its top educational institutions and charming coastal towns, but it’s also one of the least affordable states to live in the U.S.
The median home value lies upwards of $545,000, according to Zillow, and it’s even worse in cities like Boston.
Jobs, family and retirement were the top three reasons for movers abandoning Massachusetts.
“Gentrification is going on hardcore and causing rents to skyrocket even more. Kinda runs counter to the whole collegiate environment, as it’s hard for students to find affordable places to live,” writes Thomas Griffin on Quora.
Outbound moves: 57.7%
Michigan is widely considered the center of the American automotive industry, but more residents are packing their bags and driving out of the state than into it.
Although the desire to be closer to family was the primary motivation for almost half the inbound movers, a third of outbound movers said they exited the Great Lake State for jobs.
Michigan also has one of the highest average auto insurance rates in the nation and residents say driving in the colder months can get particularly treacherous.
“The weather is miserable six months of the year. If you’re into winter sports, roads so icy that you fear for your life every time you get behind the wheel every winter, and constant grey dreary skies, then Michigan winters might be fine for you,” says one anonymous Quora user.
Outbound moves: 59.3%
California’s home to Disneyland, Hollywood and Silicon Valley — what’s not to love? — but the Golden State can lack luster for those who can’t afford it.
California’s quite expensive to live in, with the highest gasoline taxes in the nation, according to the American Petroleum Institute.
About 35% of movers also said they left the state to be closer to their family.
Quora user and resident Andrew T. Post claims overpopulation is a major problem in the state. “Housing prices are sky high. There’s too little housing and too many people — and too many regulations on the building of new housing. Traffic is insane, even in non-major cities.”
Outbound moves: 60.1%
The Nutmeg State is burdened by high taxes and expensive housing, and its residents simply cannot afford to stay.
About a third of outbound movers cite retirement as their primary motivation for leaving the state. Unlike most other states, all of your retirement income — including Social Security — gets taxed in Connecticut.
Residents contend with high property taxes as well. Others take issue with the weather.
“Winters are long, cold and usually quite snowy. Night time starts at 4:00 or so in the afternoon in the depths of winter. Go to work with your headlights on, and come home with them on again,” says resident David Dill on Quora.
3. New York
Outbound moves: 63.1%
The Empire State underwent an exodus during the COVID-19 pandemic with residents fleeing cramped, overcrowded apartments for more open, greener spaces.
New York slid down by one spot in 2021, however it still made the top three for outbound moves.
The top reason for movers exiting New York last year was to be closer to one’s family (29.4%), closely followed by retirement (29%).
“Most of New York State’s population can be found in the New York City area and, frankly, there’s no more room … The other population centers in New York are suffering from a combination of urban sprawl and a hollow industrial base. Buffalo, for example, has been losing population since 1950 and the growth of the metro area hasn’t kept pace,” says Steven Haddock on Quora.
Outbound moves: 67.2%
Unlike New York, the Prairie State has plenty of rolling hills and open plains — and yet Americans are still fleeing Illinois in droves.
About 3 in 10 outbound movers left Illinois to be closer to their family. Around 28% each cited either retirement or jobs.
The state lacks job opportunities and reached an all-time high for resignations in August last year during the Great Resignation. To make matters worse, Kiplinger named it the least tax-friendly state for middle-class families in 2021.
Others say the climate can be off-putting as well. “I just can’t deal with winter or the humidity very well anymore. It used to only be the winter, but as I get older the humidity affects me more and more. We have 11 years until retirement and then we are moving to a cheaper, more temperate area,” says Sloth_grl on Reddit.
1. New Jersey
Outbound moves: 70.5%
The Garden State holds the dubious distinction of holding the highest percentage of outbound moves — for the fourth year in a row.
About a third of movers said retirement was their main reason for relocating elsewhere.
New Jersey has some of the highest property taxes in the nation and the median home value is around $430,000, according to Zillow.
“It’s overpopulated, over-regulated and overtaxed. People also tend to hate it because almost every approach to the state drops you right in the middle of an industrial wasteland, and if you drive through it you only see the massively crowded highways,” writes emperorko on Reddit.
So those are the states people are fleeing the fastest. But where are all those people moving to?
The National Movers Study also contains data on the states Americans are flocking to as they seek better prospects and a more comfortable life for their families.
Keep reading as we check out the top states people are moving to.
10 (tie). District of Columbia
Inbound moves: 59.1%
Washington, D.C. might not technically be a state — but United Van Lines still includes it on its list every year.
D.C. moved up five spots from the previous year’s ranking, and while it’s considered pretty pricey to live in, the job market’s thriving and you can expect higher-than-average income as well, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Redditor Gumburcules says D.C. also trumps other big cities you might normally compare it to.
“It’s so much quieter and more relaxed than NY. It’s much more compact and convenient than LA. The weather is miles better than Chicago, and you’re not stuck in the middle of the country, which makes travel and weekend getaways a million times better.”
10 (tie). Rhode Island
Inbound moves: 59.1%
America’s tiniest state has been steadily moving up the ranks of United Van Lines’ national movers list in recent years, jumping into the top 10 for inbound moves in 2021.
Nearly 36% of those entering Rhode Island said the jobs convinced them to relocate to the state.
That said, it’s also one of the costliest states to live in the U.S. and half of all inbound movers reported an income of $150,000 or more.
“It’s basically the Shire in LOTR, everyone knows everyone, people are generally friendly with each other but distrusting of strangers, and generally the people that live here never leave or want to leave,” says Redditor draqsko.
Inbound moves: 60.4%
The Gem State wasn’t quite as prized in 2021 as it has been in previous years, plunging from first to ninth place.
Contrary to popular belief, Idaho isn’t all farmland and potatoes — its IT job market in particular has been flourishing and the state’s Department of Labor also reported strong population and job growth last year.
The low cost of living and abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities can make Idaho attractive to Americans seeking a more affordable lifestyle and open spaces as well.
“There’s a lot of positives especially if you’re the outdoors type. Huge swaths of wilderness in the state, desert in the south with more mountainous terrain and forests in the central and northern parts of the state. Even in Boise (where traffic can get ‘bad’), an hour of driving will get you into the wilderness,” says stormy370 on Reddit.
Inbound moves: 60.5%
Lush forests and blue rivers delineate the Beaver State — however, its natural beauty wasn’t enough to stop it from slipping down the list.
Oregon took third place in United Van Lines’ list for 2021 and before that it held at No. 2 for three years in a row.
A sizable chunk of inbound movers (44%) said they chose Oregon for work-related reasons and that’s unsurprising considering the state’s thriving tech industry. A number of high-tech businesses are clustered around the Silicon Forest area around Portland.
That said, the state’s high cost of living and ballooning homeless population have become an issue for many.
Inbound moves: 62%
Tennessee is home to more than just Graceland and fried chicken — plenty of Americans love the state for its low cost of living and affordable homes.
The Volunteer State has fairly low property taxes and won’t tax your Social Security benefits or income. Just be prepared to deal with sky-high sales taxes when you do your shopping.
The climate can be hit-or-miss for some people, as Larry Gwinn writes on Quora.
“If you hate winter, then Tennessee is a great state for you. Tennessee’s winter is mild and short. But, its summer is long and very humid.”
Inbound moves: 62.1%
Sweet Home Alabama certainly lives up to much of the hype, ranking sixth place on United Van Lines’ list.
Residents in the Yellowhammer State benefit from extremely low property taxes and cheap home values.
However, Alabama’s job market was the top reason for both people moving out and into the state. The unemployment rate is fairly low, but median household income in the state is lower than the national median.
“Travel is easy and cheap in one of the most ecologically diverse states, meaning there is a ton to see and do in nature without spending much. Lots of diverse small/medium cities to visit … Alabama is also a sick hub for great weekend trips. Nashville, New Orleans, Atlanta are all reasonable to go to on a Friday after work and enjoy the weekend in,” says jsm2008 on Reddit.
Inbound moves: 62.3%
Florida’s got a little bit of everything for everyone, whether you’re hitting up the local beaches and theme parks or just looking for the ideal spot to settle down in your golden years.
Retirees adore the state (retirement was the top reason for almost 39% of inbound movers) for its excellent climate and recreational opportunities, as well as its tax-friendliness. There’s no state income tax, and the sales and property taxes are pretty average compared to the rest of the country.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows in the Sunshine State, however, according to AdrianArmbruster on Reddit.
“It’s definitely not going to be all vaporwave aesthetics and Miami Beach sunsets all the time. Definitely don’t go expecting that. The primary industry being tourism both raises prices and depresses wages. Anyone thinking of coming here with a penny to their name may want to keep that in mind.”
3 (tie). West Virginia
Inbound moves: 63%
Those country roads are taking plenty of Americans into West Virginia — the state jumped up eight spots to make it to third place for inbound moves in 2021.
Close to half of those entering the Mountain State cited jobs as their main motivator, but a whopping 72% said they exited the state for the same reason.
West Virginia grapples with one of the worst poverty rates in the country, particularly with the decline of its coal industry.
However, Redditor OMothmanWhereArtThou says, “The cost of living in West Virginia is really low and it has so much natural beauty. If you’re an outdoorsy person, you can find a lot to get into. If you’re a fan of living near very few people, that can be easily achieved in WV.”
3 (tie). South Carolina
Inbound moves: 63.3%
South Carolina boasts a warm climate, friendly residents and outdoor attractions like Myrtle Beach and the salt marshes.
Like in 2020, the top reason for moving to the Palmetto State was retirement, and almost 70% of the new residents last year were 55 or older.
South Carolina is well known for its golf courses, beaches and historic buildings — and it’s pretty tax-friendly for retirees as well.
“There are plenty of gorgeous towns around: Beaufort, Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach and Charleston. I would even say that Charleston is perhaps the most underrated city in the U.S. I don’t think you can find that sort of wonderful, unique and well-preserved southern British colonial architecture anywhere else in the U.S.,” writes TheWalkingKing on Reddit.
2. South Dakota
Inbound moves: 68.8%
The Mount Rushmore State is clearly more than just the massive granite carvings it gets its nickname from — drawing almost 70% of its movers last year.
In fact, the desire to be closer to family was the main motivator for those relocating to South Dakota.
The cost of living is lower-than-average, plus the state has no income tax and low sales taxes.
“Sioux Falls is consistently rated one of the best places in the U.S. to live. It’s got a gorgeous parks system and lively local music scene. As to the rural parts of the state, it’s incredibly beautiful, basically the lyrics to ‘America the Beautiful’: beautiful, spacious skies; amber waves of grain; purple mountains majestically rising above a fruited plain,” writes nemo_sum on Reddit.
Inbound moves: 74.3%
Despite being one of the least populated states in the nation, Vermont ranks No. 1 for the highest percentage of inbound moves in 2021.
Over 43% of inbound movers cited the jobs as their main reason for moving. The state has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the U.S., however it’s also considered quite expensive to run a business there, so it’s not ideal for launching a startup.
Redditor luxorange recommends the Green Mountain State for its natural beauty and recreational opportunities.
“It’s a really outdoorsy state. People are all about being outside, hiking, kayaking, biking, skiing. No matter where you live here, it is beautiful. The seasons are fun, it’s almost always a pretty drive, and the air is clean (seriously underrated feature of VT, how good the air smells).”