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Updated on Wednesday, June 5, 2019
As shown by the bidding process for the new Amazon headquarters, states and cities will do just about anything to attract a high-income, highly educated workforce. With more workers come higher demand for local services and businesses. Additionally, from the local government’s perspective, these workers create a reliable tax base.
Where these companies and workers decide to move says a lot about their preferences today. But maybe more importantly, where these workers decide to move reveals which states may be the economic winners of tomorrow.
In order to understand these trends, we utilized migration data from the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS). Using this data set, we found out which states workers with bachelor’s degrees (ages of 25 to 65) were moving between 2016-17.
- Florida is the biggest winner with a net gain of nearly 19,000 bachelor degree-holding workers. The state is probably more famous for attracting an older, non-working population, but — thanks to its low cost of living and low taxes, perhaps — bachelor degree-wielding workers are also flocking to the Sunshine State.
- The Orlando and Tampa metro areas are the major attractors in Florida, taking in a net flow of 8,500 and 4,400 educated workers respectively.
- Arizona and Texas, two other warm, low cost-of-living states, also took top spots, with Phoenix and Dallas servings as the most popular relocation spots within their states. Texas came in second with a net flow of more than 14,400 educated workers, while Arizona took fourth with nearly 11,840. Interestingly, Arizona has a relatively low total population, so scoring the fourth-highest net flow is particularly impressive.
- One state mirroring the trend of affordability and low taxes is Colorado, which earns the No. 3 best spot on this list. This state attracted 38,817 educated workers while losing just under 25,700, for a net increase of about 13,100. Denver is also notable as one of America’s biggest boomtowns.
- Illinois was the second largest loser with a net loss of nearly 19,500 educated workers. The Chicago metro area led the charge in this state, with migration data showing losses of roughly 13,400 bachelor degree-holding workers. It is worth pointing out, though, that the metro area also encompasses territory in Indiana and Wisconsin and is not the only reason for Illinois’ overall losses.
- New York City, with its unfortunate reputation as being one of the most expensive places in the country, was the biggest loser for metro areas, with a net loss of 19,269 educated workers. A large number of New York residents would actually prefer to live elsewhere, with losses of nearly 49,000 people between 2017 and 2018, according to Census Bureau data. However, similar to Chicago, the New York City metro area also includes people living in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and is not the sole cause of its state’s losses.
- Educated workers are not alone in leaving New York state and its namesake city: Census Bureau data shows the overall population of the famed urban area has declined for two straight years now. That may be due, at least in part, to migration to nearby New Jersey. There’s been a large growth in population in the state of late, including cities just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, like Jersey City and Hoboken.
Top states in our rankings
Florida tops our rankings, netting nearly 19,000 workers over the 2016-17 period we measured. The next-highest net gain was just under 14,500, in Texas. But the Southeast had other winners in the top 10: North Carolina (No. 5) and South Carolina (No. 9).
Those with the lowest influx of educated workers are more common in the central and eastern parts of the country. States around the Great Lakes — Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio — fared poorly in our rankings, though Michigan came in at No. 15 overall. In the Northeast, meanwhile, New York came last in our rankings, with a net flow of -23,007 workers. Massachusetts (-7,223) and Pennsylvania (-5,371) also found themselves in the bottom five.
Southeastern states were a mixed bag — Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia are in the red, while Florida and North Carolina land the first- and fifth-best spots on this list, respectively.
With over 60,000 educated workers flowing into the state, Florida is the ultimate hot-spot for workers who have relocated. And when you look at the stats, it’s easy to see why.
The median household income for those who live within the state is just over $50,000. Nearly 65% of residents own their homes, which have an overall median value of about $180,000. Plus, only about 3.5% of the overall population are unemployed, as of March 2019.
The cost of living is relatively affordable, too. Homeowners with mortgages pay about $1,400 per month on housing, while renters pay $1,077 per month.
Coming in with a higher influx of Bachelor-degree holding workers than Florida (but a lower overall net), is Texas. The Lone Star State boasts a median household income of about $57,000 per year, and it has an overall unemployment rate of just 3.8%. Its housing costs for renters are also a bit cheaper than the No. 1 state on this list, coming in at $952 per month. It’s also worth noting that Austin was the third most-popular destination for millennials on the move, according to our ranking of millennial boomtowns.
Colorado is another popular destination for workers moving out of state.
Working women in the Denver metro area, for example, are doing well there — an impressive 65.4% of women have employee-provided health insurance, about 40% of managers are women, and just 4.2% are unemployed, according to our study on the best cities for working women. In fact, the metro area earned the fifth-best ranking for those workers, compared to other U.S. cities. It’s also popular among millennials — Denver experienced the second-largest influx of that demographic, compared to other cities, between 2011 and 2016.
Home to vast deserts and the Grand Canyon, Arizona is also experiencing an influx of workers. It’s a popular place for homeowners — 63.1% of Arizonans own their home, and the median value for those homes is $193,200. Renters, on the other hand, pay an average of $972 per month for their spaces. Compared to the overall average household income for state residents, which is a little more than $53,000, that accounts for about 20% of annual earnings.
Arizona is also a good option when you consider high-interest debt. Our study on U.S. credit card debt found that Arizona residents tend to carry less credit card debt ($4,299.70) than the average American ($6,358). However, it does have a slightly higher unemployment rate (5.0%) than you would find in Florida (No. 1) or Texas (No. 2).
5. North Carolina
Rounding out the top five, North Carolina has proven itself to be a popular destination for workers who move across state lines. And it does have some desirable factors going in its favor.
Unemployment (which stands at 4.0% as of March 2019) has been on a steady decline since the recession. And the median household income is comparable to what you might find in Florida (No. 1) or Arizona (No. 4). Plus, residents enjoy an average commute of fewer than 30 minutes.
However, it’s worth pointing out that the state is also home to the lowest-ranked metro area for working women — its most populous city, Charlotte — with gendered underrepresentation in leadership roles.
View our complete rankings
The figures below are based on the number of bachelor’s degree-holding individuals who have moved across state lines, either in or out of a particular state. Net flow is calculated by taking the total “moving in” minus amount of those “moving out.” Entries are also listed in order of net flow, from the most popular to least popular states for educated workers.
Interestingly, the top-five states are the only ones on this ranking which achieved five-figure net flow status. And all states which fall below the 23rd-best rated option (Arkansas) have a negative net flow, meaning more people are leaving than coming in.
It’s also worth noting that the moving-in and moving-out figures vary quite a bit from state to state. Georgia’s (No. 38) moving-in figure, for example, is nearly 30,000 (which is more than some of the top-ten ranking states on this list), while Vermont’s (No. 26) moving-in figure is just 2,003.
Moving for opportunity: How to afford the expense
Moving almost always brings up a mix of excitement and nerves. But for those who aren’t sure if they can afford the expense, it tends to lean more toward nerves. While tight finances, or a lack of funds, aren’t ideal when contemplating that kind of life change, there are ways to make it work.
Creating a budget and starting to save is the best first step if your move is still a ways off. Some of the usual expenses that renters should plan for include:
- Security deposits (keep in mind that those with pets may be required to pay an additional deposit, and your landlord may ask for pet rent)
- First (and possibly last) month’s rent
- Transportation costs (like airfare) for you and your family
- Shipping costs for your belongings
- Packing materials, like boxes and tape
- Storage costs (if, for example, your stuff doesn’t fit in your new apartment)
- Cash for tipping movers
- Repairs and new purchases to fix, furnish or decorate your new place
Trimming expenses for your move
Delaying your move to give yourself time to save can help avoid taking on debt — but that isn’t always possible. Still, if you’re willing to do a bit of work, you can minimize your expenses through other means.
If you’re planning on using professional movers, for example, it’s vital to shop around for your best rate by asking for estimates from local companies (while you’re at it, check out reviews to make sure your items would be in good hands.) Curbing personal spending is another thing to keep in the front of your mind as you come up to your move date. It’s also worth checking out other options, like having family members pitch in with packing supplies or transportation, renting a moving truck instead of using movers, or opting to move on during the week rather than during the weekend (or around a holiday).
It’s also a good idea to consider asking your employer if they would be willing to cover some of your relocation costs, especially if you’re moving for a new job or you have a good track record with your current company. While approval for that certainly isn’t a guarantee, it is possible and can help you save, so it may be worth the ask.
Using a personal loan for moving expenses
For those with strong credit, a personal loan might be a good option to fund your move. In general, the better your credit, the better the loan terms you’ll qualify for, and the less it will cost you to borrow. Personal loans can help you avoid putting large balances on a high-interest credit card and thereby save you money, long-term.
However, they aren’t a fix-all: You’d still have to qualify first, then pay interest charges and keep to the monthly repayment schedule to avoid late fees. But for the right borrower, they can provide a bit of breathing room and help get your move funded, faster.
In order to find where educated workers are moving, researchers analyzed IPUMS migration over the 2016-17 period. Specifically this analysis tracked the movements of people in the workforce who moved across state lines. Researchers compared the number who moved into a state to those who moved out of the state. The states were then ranked by net flow (the difference between immigration and emigration).
Statistics on individual states comes from the United States Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unless otherwise noted.