Sun Belt Migration Revives as Florida Overtakes New York

The Sun Belt’s demographic lull shows signs of ending according the Census Bureau’s latest release of population and migration estimates through July 2014. The headline, now widely trumpeted, is the leapfrogging of Florida over New York to become the nation’s third most populous state (after California and Texas).

In a way, this symbolizes the completion of more than a half century of Snow Belt to Sun Belt population shifts, even though the combined populations (and congressional representation) of the South and West “Sun Belt” states surpassed those in the Northeast and Midwest after the 1980 census. Now for the first time, the nation’s three largest states are located in the Sun Belt. If the new growth rates continue through the 2020 Census, these three states together will have 121 members of the House of Representatives.


Perhaps the bigger news regarding regional population shifts is what appears to be a revival of domestic migration flows to the South and West after a decided departure from the rapid movement that characterized the middle part of the 2000-2010 decade. This migration lull, initially related to the mortgage meltdown and the 2007-2009 recession, continued in fits and starts through 2013.

The new numbers show renewed Sun Belt migration. Texas continues to be the largest migration magnet, exhibiting its highest levels since 2006. Three of the Sun Belt’s biggest boom-then-bust states—Florida, Nevada and Arizona—appear to be especially rebounding in 2013-2014. The former two states, which showed migration losses for some years after the recession began, register their biggest inflows since 2006 and 2007. Similar migration upticks are also seen for Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Colorado, Oregon and Washington. For these areas, the nation’s slow economic upswing is now being reflected in the attraction of new migrants.


By the same token, traditional Northeast and Midwest migrant “feeder” states are losing decidedly more migrants than in recent years. New York, New Jersey and Illinois, the biggest migrant losing states, are witnessing the largest levels of domestic out-migration in more than half a decade. As the earlier migration to the Sun Belt slowed down, these and other Snow Belt states showed diminished out-migration.

These recent mirror image migration flows, out of New York and into Florida, are emblematic of how the recession stalled long-term Snow Belt-to-Sun Belt population shifts which are now reviving.