Why are there more New Yorkers in North Carolina than Texas?

Writing at The Upshot, a policy and politics focused website from the New York Times, Gregor Aisch, Robert Gebeloff, and Kevin Quealy, recently released a series of interactive graphics on where residents of each state were born, documenting trends from 1900 to 2012. Not only did they use my favorite data source—the Integrated Public Use Microdata or IPUMS data from the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota, they covered one of my favorite topics: migration.

The charts clearly illustrate one of Ravenstein’s “laws” of human migration: “the majority of migrants move a short distance.” That is, near moves are more common than far moves. With few exceptions, migrants from neighboring states dominate the flow of individuals born elsewhere. California and Florida are two of these exceptions, but so, too, is North Carolina.

Where NC Residents Came From_UpshotNYT

Between 1900 and 1980, the most common birthplace for North Carolina residents other than North Carolina was South Carolina. In 1990, it was our northern neighbor, Virginia. But, in 2000, New York emerged as the most common out-of-state birthplace for NC residents. In 2012, 4% of North Carolina residents, or 425,000 individuals, were born in New York, twice as many as were born in South Carolina.

North Carolina isn’t the only Southern state with a large influx of New Yorkers. Eight percent of Florida’s population—1.6 million individuals—were born in New York. Another 346,000 New Yorkers live in Virginia (4% of VA population), 319,000 in Georgia (3% of GA population), 276,000 in Texas (1% of TX population), and 174,000 in South Carolina (4% of SC population). While Aisch and colleagues note that “it seems as if Florida has been pulling down residents from snow country forever” and Texas receives a steady stream of migrants from across the nation, the influx of New Yorkers to these other states is more notable:

“Twenty years ago, the leading source of Georgia’s domestic migration was Alabama. Now, there are more New Yorkers…”

“Like its neighbor to the north, South Carolina has seen a sizable influx of people from New York.”

These trends were discussed further by The Upshot writer Nate Cohn, who elaborated on the implications of different migration patterns on voting behavior.

Unstated, but implicit in his article, is the question of why these patterns are so different. Here are two reasons why there are more New Yorkers in Virginia and North Carolina than in Texas.

First, Ravenstein’s law matters. All three states have fast-growing major metropolitan areas that attract migrants from across the country: the greater Washington, D.C., area in northern Virginia; the Research Triangle and Charlotte regions in North Carolina; and Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio in Texas. The age structure of New York migrants to these states reflects the lure of economic opportunity. Roughly two-thirds of New Yorkers living in North Carolina (64%), Texas (65%), and Virginia (67%) are between the ages of 25 and 64, compared to only 56% in retiree-destination Florida (where 31% of New Yorkers are 65 or older). But, near moves are more common than far moves, suggesting that individuals are more likely to move to nearby states than halfway across the country for economic opportunities.

Second, black return migration to the South has a larger impact on the Carolinas and other mid-Atlantic coast states than Texas.

New York was the primary destination for North Carolina-born blacks during the mid-twentieth century’s Great Migration. In 1980, 8% of all North Carolina-born blacks (144,000)—and 11% of all NC-born black adults—were living in New York. Among South Carolina-born blacks, this proportion was even higher: 12% of all SC-born blacks or 169,000 individuals were living in New York in 1980. Just over 6% of Virginia-born blacks (72,000) and 4% of Georgia-born blacks (79,000) were also living in New York at this time period.

In comparison, only 6,540 or 0.4% of Texas-born blacks were living in New York in 1980. Many more Texas-born blacks were still living in their birth state than North Carolina-born blacks—81% compared to 65%. And, among those that did move, west, not northeast, was the direction of choice. Ten percent of Texas-born blacks, 164,000 individuals, were living in California in 1980. In contrast, only 1% of NC-born blacks (17,000) were in California.

Writing about changes in migration to New York, Aisch, Gebeloff, and Quealy note, “one of the less-noticed trends [in New York] is the decline in population of blacks born in other states. Since 1980, the population of Southern-born blacks has declined by more than 350,000.” Southern-born blacks are not the only individuals returning to the South. Northern-born blacks are also moving south, often following well-established migration routes in reverse.

Race of NY Born by State of Residence_2012_CD

Blacks comprise 13% of all individuals ever-born in New York and still living in the United States. Among New Yorkers living in Georgia, nearly three times as many—36%—are black. Similar patterns exist in the three other southern states with strong historical ties to New York. In South Carolina, 30% of New Yorkers currently living in the state are black; in North Carolina, 24%; and in Virginia, 22%. These patterns differ dramatically in Texas and Florida. Florida actually has the largest population of New York-born blacks outside of New York, but this is dwarfed by the even larger population of white New Yorkers living in the state. In Texas, however, these current trends are strongly influenced by migration patterns established half a century earlier.

Data used in this blog post are from the 1980 decennial census and 2012 American Community Survey data in the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) from the Minneapolis Population Center at the University of Minnesota.

About Rebecca Tippett

Rebecca Tippett is Director of Carolina Demography at UNC-Chapel Hill's Carolina Population Center.
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