Migration Study: The top 10 states people moved to and from in 2021

Some people love holidays or birthdays. People in the moving industry love United Van Lines’ yearly Migration Study, and we have compiled our expertise and research on these latest findings to give you the best picture of where American’s are moving and why.

United released the company’s 45th Annual National Movers Study today, which confirms ideas that Americans have been moving into lower density areas and moving to be closer to their families throughout 2021.

The annual study, which tracks the company’s exclusive data for customers’ state-to-state migration patterns, determined that Vermont was the state with the highest percentage of inbound migration (74%) with United Van Lines.

South Dakota (69%), South Carolina (63%), West Virginia (63%) and Florida (62%) were also revealed as the top inbound states for 2021.

The state that rose to the top of outbound locations was New Jersey (71%), which makes it the fourth year in a row that the state has claimed that title.

Meanwhile, states like Illinois (67%), New York (63%), Connecticut (60%) and California (59%), which have regularly appeared on the top outbound list in recent years, again ranked among states with the largest exoduses.

Moving In

The top inbound states of 2021 were:

  1. Vermont
  2. South Dakota
  3. South Carolina
  4. West Virginia
  5. Florida
  6. Alabama
  7. Tennessee
  8. Oregon
  9. Idaho
  10. Rhode Island

Takeaway: Six of the top ten inbound states — Vermont, South Dakota, West Virginia, Alabama, Oregon and Idaho — are among the 20 least densely populated states in America, with less than 100 people per square mile. If you expanded to 25, you’d find Tennessee and South Carolina in that list as well.

Moving Out

The top outbound states for 2021 were:

  1. New Jersey
  2. Illinois
  3. New York
  4. Connecticut
  5. California
  6. Michigan
  7. Massachusetts
  8. Louisiana
  9. Ohio
  10. Nebraska

Balanced States

Several states saw nearly the same number of residents moving inbound as outbound.

Kentucky and Wyoming are among these “balanced states.”

Why are people moving to Vermont?

You wouldn’t be alone if you’re surprised by some of the top states, with Vermont leading the pack.

In 2019, Vermont counted 55,000 fewer people under the age of 45 than it had in 2000, and just 44,000 more people over 65, according to the Center for Research on Vermont, part of the University of Vermont.

Vermont also has the lowest birth rate in the country, and the median age of its 624,000 residents is the third oldest, behind only Maine and New Hampshire.

However, it’s relatively sudden burst of popularity is “indicative of COVID-19’s impact on domestic migration patterns, with 2021 bringing an acceleration of moves to smaller, midsized towns and cities,” Michael Stoll, an economist and public policy professor at the University of California—Los Angeles, said in a written statement to U.S. News.

“We’re seeing this not only occur because of Americans’ desire to leave high density areas due to risk of infection, but also due to the transformation of how we’re able to work, with more flexibility to work remote.”

The pandemic drove upwards of 5,000 additional people to spend the summer of 2021 in Vermont, according to a state estimate, many of them seeking out a break from the congestion of urban life that brought additional virus concerns such as hot spots, susceptibility and isolation.

The exodus from pandemic ravaged cities into the relative quiet of Vermont was so prevalent that the New York Times penned an article covering the affect it had on (former) small town life in Winhall, VT – even going so far as to call the transplants “COVID refugees.”

From 2019 to 2020, residential sales in Vermont to out-of-state buyers jumped from $799 million to $1.43 billion, a 79 percent increase, according to Vermont state officials. The number of out-of-state buyers also increased by 38 percent, from 2,750 to 3,795.

According to a recent survey conducted last year by a partnership between the University of Vermont and the Vermont Futures Project, many of those summer visitors decided to stay – ready to buy with cash in hand.

This influx led to a burst of activity for industries linked to the housing industry, such as real estate agents, title companies, banks, and moving companies have all been busy servicing this influx of new residents.

According to the survey of 226 respondents (all having moved to Vermont during the pandemic), one-third said they were likely to stay in the state even post-pandemic.

Nearly three-quarters listed COVID-19 as their primary reason for being drawn to Vermont, citing Vermont’s handling of the pandemic as a big draw. The state has the country’s lowest per-capita cases of COVID infections and deaths, and about half the respondents also added that their employers had allowed them to work remotely.

One of the signature findings of the survey was that “more people are comfortable teleworking and more companies are allowing it,” said Richard Watts, director of the Center for Research on Vermont.

According to Vermont’s Burlington Free Press, Peter Nelson, professor of geography at Middlebury College, and Cheryl Morse, associate professor of geography at the University of Vermont used cell phone data in a new research project to track migration in Vermont.

They found that the migration to smaller towns and cities or “micropolitan core areas” to be a strong and consistent pattern, more so than the national trend of migration to rural areas.

With many new “Vermonters” coming from larger cities, such as Boston, driven away by pandemic numbers (Massachusetts has an infection rate six times higher) and rising housing costs, Vermont’s cities offer some of the amenities they’re used to, while also providing a more reasonable cost of living.

Why are people moving out of New Jersey?

It’s amazing to see how people can en masse fall in love with one state, or out of love with another. Where Vermont has flourished, why has New Jersey stumbled?

To begin with, while Vermont’s influx of new residents can be relatively soundly tied to the pandemic, New Jersey’s exodus has been happening for a lot longer. The state has topped the United Migration Study’s list for the past four years and has been in the top 10 for a decade.

This is part of American’s trend for moving out of densely populated areas that began pre-pandemic and was accelerated once it began. New Jersey is the most densely populated state, outside of the District of Columbia.

The top reason why residents left was for a professional opportunity, according to the United survey data. Of all the residents who moved out, 46% listed “job” as the deciding factor.

“A leading motivation behind these migration patterns across all regions,” in fact, “is a career change,” the report says. About “one out of every two people who moved in the past year moved for a new job or company transfer.”

The second most compelling reason to relocate, according to the respondents, was retirement, as 24% said they preferred to spend their golden years elsewhere. A similar share, 22%, said they wanted to be closer to family, while 17% listed “lifestyle change” as their reason for moving and 5% said “health.”

According to Michele Siekerka, president and CEO of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, the survey reveals the state’s continued challenges regarding outmigration, which is impacted by high taxes and overall cost of living.

Where are retirees moving?

Many Gen Xers and Baby Boomers are going into retirement, and often at a younger age than past generations, pushed into it early by the pandemic, according to Pew Research.

In Q3 of 2020, 3.2 million more Boomers reported that they were out of the labor force due to retirement than the 25.4 million who were retired in the same quarter of 2019.

Until 2020, the overall number of retired Boomers had been growing annually by about 2 million on average since 2011 (the year the oldest Boomer reached age 65), and the largest increase was 2.5 million between the third quarter of 2014 and 2015.

While many are retiring to states like Florida, which attributes to its place on the inbound list, United Van Lines’ data reveals they’re not necessarily heading to heavily populated cities like Orlando and Miami.

Instead, retirees are venturing to less dense areas like Punta Gorda (81% inbound), Sarasota (79% inbound) and Fort Myers-Cape Coral (77% inbound). Similarly, in Oregon, cities including Medford-Ashland (83%) and Eugene-Springfield (79%) saw high inbound migration in 2021.

These migration patterns correspond to Vermont’s own study showing that people were drawn to “micropolitan” cities of middling size over more densely populated areas.

According to United’s data, the tops states people wanted to retire to in 2021 were:

  1. Florida, 38.77%
  2. South Carolina, 36.56%
  3. Arizona, 35.71%
  4. Delaware, 34.18%
  5. Idaho, 29.11%
  6. Nevada, 28.99%
  7. Wyoming, 28.21%
  8. Mississippi, 27.41%
  9. New Mexico, 27.41%
  10. Maine, 27.33%

Where did people move for jobs in 2021?

For people who did the opposite of retiring and decided to make a move for their career in 2021, United’s study listed the below as their top destinations:

  1. Washington, D.C., 63.79%
  2. Louisiana, 50%
  3. California, 37.59%
  4. Nebraska, 47.37%
  5. West Virginia, 47.37%
  6. Alabama, 45.35%
  7. Oregon, 43.99%
  8. Vermont, 43.02%
  9. Texas, 41.77%
  10. Missouri, 41.67%

Where did people move for the best cost of living in 2021?

One of the most talked about topics in real estate – cost of living – is always a factor for people moving to or from a new city or state. For those who found it to be the biggest motivator for them, these are the top states they moved to:

  1. South Carolina, 13.26%
  2. Tennessee, 13.22%
  3. Wyoming, 12.82%
  4. Delaware, 12.66%
  5. Idaho, 12.66%
  6. Nevada, 12.18%
  7. Indiana, 11.68%
  8. South Dakota, 10.87%
  9. West Virginia, 10.53%
  10. North Carolina, 10.28%

Learn more about United’s 2021 Migration Study or reach out to Suddath about a local, long-distance or international move.