Housing prices put Americans on the move
Residents are leaving high-priced markets in the Northeast and West Coast for more affordable places in the Sun Belt.
By Les Christie, CNNMoney.com staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - The movement of Americans from north to south is trending as strong as ever, according to the latest report on net domestic migration released today from the Census Bureau.

And, it seems, housing prices are driving the trend. The net out-migration of residents is from high-priced northeastern and West Coast cities to more affordable housing markets in the Sun Belt.

Moving on out
Metro areas with biggest net migration -- 2000-2004
Metro areaAverage annual net lossAnnual rate per thousand
New York211,01411.4
Los Angeles117,7809.3
San Francisco60,98414.7
Source:Census Bureau
Moving on in
Metro areas with biggest net gains in domestic migration -- 2000-2004
Metro areaAverage annual net gainAnnual rate per thousand
Riverside-San Bernardino81,46023.0
Source:Census Bureau
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"Many are surmising that housing values are so different around the country that it's impacting migration," says Marc Perry, a demographer with the Census Bureau. "Some people are cashing out housing and moving to cheaper areas. Others who don't own homes are moving so they can afford to buy one."

That makes losers out of metro areas like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, and makes Dallas, Atlanta and Phoenix, where housing has been much more affordable, into big net gainers.

Loss leaders

Of the 25 largest metro areas, the New York region lost the most people, with an average annual net outflow of 211,014 residents from 2000 through 2004. That calculates to an average loss of 11.4 people per thousand per year. The median house price in the New York area last year was $427,600, about twice the national median. (See correction.)

Los Angeles, where home prices averaged $568,400, had a net domestic outflow of 117,780 during the same period, 9.3 per thousand a year. The net out-migration from the San Francisco metro area ($718,700) was even stronger, averaging 14.7 per year for a total of 60,984.

Many Angelenos relocated to the "Inland Empire" of Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, about an hour-plus east of LA. Housing prices there were a big draw; the median home cost $392,300, nearly $175,000 less than LA. That helped the area record a net influx of 81,460 people, for an average annual rate of 23 per thousand. The Riverside metro area was the No. 1 gainer in the U.S., both in total numbers and in rate and is now the 13th most populous in the United States, surpassing such better-known metro areas as St. Louis, Cleveland and San Diego.

Other areas fattening up on domestic migrants include Phoenix, where the median house cost $268,400, with a gain 48,598, Tampa ($223,000) at plus 36,395 residents and Atlanta ($170,200) with an influx of 31,026. Only seven of the top 25 largest metro areas were net winners; 18 had a net outflow of domestic residents.

Among the states, New York had the highest out-migration 182,886 and its average per thousand of 9.6 trailed only the District of Columbia, which averaged 18.1.

As for net gainers, the Sunshine State leads the pack.

"Florida has been a sponge for migrants," says Perry. It has attracted more residents than any other state, a net gain of 190,894 (a lot of them retiring or relocating New Yorkers), but Nevada had the highest average annual increase per thousand, 23.3.

Is Florida peaking?

There is some evidence that retirees may be starting to shy away from the storms and flood problems that Florida has endured the past few years, especially with real-estate prices there going through the roof. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some retirees are moving to areas in Tennessee, Kentucky and western North Carolina that are considered safer, cheaper and less crowded.

"We call them halfbacks," says Perry. "They move all the way down to Florida from the North and then move halfway back."

Soaring prices in some Florida cities could slow or reverse the net migration there.

Migration seems to be at least somewhat independent of economic conditions. In Massachusetts, for example, out-migration has occurred at more than a 50 percent higher rate the past few years than in the decade before, according to Perry. Yet the state suffered much more economic distress in the 1990s than it has in the 2000s.

Like virtually every other post-war trend, the attitudes and behaviors of baby boomers is crucial, because of the sheer size of the group.

"Like Californians," says Perry, "anything they do resonates with the rest of the country. What they decide to do when they retire will have a huge impact on domestic migration."

Many of the net losers in this domestic dance have still gained population due to immigration from foreign lands. New York, for example, is one of the six states - others are California, Florida, New Jersey, Illinois and Texas - that in 1990 acounted for three-quarters of all immigrants living in the United States, according to Barbara Lipman, director of research for the Center for Housing Policy.

But by 2000, those states could only claim two-thirds of all foreign born U.S. residents, a sharp decline. "These are still the 'gateway states,'" says Lipman, "but 22 other states are seeing significant growth of immigrant populations."

If that trend continues, the net-migration loss states may find it even harder to hold onto their populations.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the New York region had a total net outflow of 211,014 residents from 2001 through 2004. And it incorrectly stated that the outflow calculates to an average loss of 11.1 people per thousand per year. The tables also indicated the net outflows listed were totals for the period. CNN/Money regrets the errors. (Return to story.)

Have you found your passion post-retirement? MONEY magazine is looking for retirees between the ages of 50 and 70 who have redefined themselves by finding new love, discovering a hobby, starting a business, etc. in their post-work years. E-mail your story, along with your name, age, location, daytime phone number and e-mail address, to dmosher@moneymail.com. Top of page

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