Atlantic Cities

Tracing America's Urban-to-Urban Migration Through the Recession

There’s obviously a lot of talk about the rural-to-urban shift that’s underway in countries all over the world. The majority of people now live in urban areas, and that’s not expected to change. But many countries have had urban majorities for decades. The United States, for example, has an urban population near 80 percent. So while there’s certainly some rural-to-urban migration happening, most of the movement in the U.S. is urban-to-urban.

A new interactive map from the Urban Institute’s MetroTrends research team breaks down these movements, watching population changes in and between the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. between 2004 and 2010. (This is the latest in a series of worthwhile maps from MetroTrends, which has recently looked at economic security and job growth by sector in metropolitan areas.)

(Click through to access the interactive version of the map)

The data is derived from the Internal Revenue Service, which tracks year-to-year address changes on individual income tax returns. It does not account for movement between counties within the same metropolitan area, nor does it include migration flows from or to foreign countries. The data can be viewed for single year changes, or for the entire 2004-2010 period.

The map highlights some interesting changes in the country, especially before and after the housing crash, and throughout the economic downturn. Instantly noticeable is the high concentration of net loss of migration in population centers in the northeast, the Rust Belt and California. Six of the 10 most populous cities in the country saw a net loss of migration between 2004 and 2010.

Between 2004 and 2010, the biggest losers include Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Detroit, and New Orleans. The biggest gainers include Austin, Las Vegas, Raleigh, Portland, and many of the metro areas in Florida

It’s also interesting to see how these trends change from year to year. For example, most of the migration in this time period occurred before the housing crash and economic downturn. After 2008, the amount of people moving and the differentials between in- and out-flows have become much smaller.

For each metropolitan area, the map includes information on the top three metro sources of in-migration and the top three metro locations for out-migration. Tracking these over time creates a vivid picture of not only population dynamics but also of the relative strengths and attractive powers of certain metropolitan areas.

Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for The Atlantic Cities. He lives in Los Angeles. All posts »

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