by Benjamin Glasner

Key Findings

  • Manhattan was the biggest loser at $16.5 billion of outflows to other states, with nearly 28 cents of every dollar—equaling $4.6 billion in total going to the state of Florida.
  • California saw the greatest losses at the state level, while Florida was the biggest beneficiary with a net gain of $39 billion from other states.

Pandemic-era moves by American families and workers are reshaping the country’s economic geography. As our previous analysis of IRS data from 2020 to 2021 found, the biggest acceleration of moves was the outflow of taxable income from large urban areas to suburban and rural areas throughout the country. What was absent from that previous analysis was our capacity to follow exactly where money was coming from and going to. In this post, we introduce a new tool to explore the origins and destinations of movers and their income. 

We find substantial variation in the flows of movers and taxable income across regions and states. Most notably, there were large transfers of income from the West Coast eastward toward Phoenix, Denver, and the rest of the Mountain West, while billions of dollars in adjusted gross income (AGI) also flowed south from New York City to Florida’s coasts. The key lesson of this analysis is that the paths of inter-county migration are not random, and where a dollar originated can be an important predictor of where it was likely to land.

The IRS income migration data provides insights into the movement of income at both state and county levels, offering a comprehensive analysis of the changes in AGI with fine granularity. To simplify these origin-to-destination pairs, we developed an interactive tool designed to highlight the most significant contributors and gainers for a selected location and level of geography. You can use the tool below to explore the county-to-county and state-to-state flow of AGI, or the total effect of AGI flows at the state and county levels. Using this tool, we can assess the size, direction, and characteristics of outflows and inflows of AGI across the country.

A Tale of Two Cities: Nashville and Manhattan

The contrast between two prominent urban areas, Davidson County (Nashville) and Manhattan, is illustrative of the starkly different trends in migration and flows of AGI from 2020 to 2021 experienced by different places.

Nashville experienced a net AGI inflow of $105 million over this period, but that gain masks a tremendous amount of churn. In total, the city gained $2.3 billion from people who moved in, while it nearly lost the same amount—$2.2 billion—due to movement away from the city. Overall, Nashville had 3,100 fewer tax returns and 10,300 fewer individuals as a result of in-and-out migration yet gained AGI on net.

Much of the inflow of taxable income into Nashville came from other large urban counties which served to offset the losses from those who left for the suburbs. The single largest movement out of the city was roughly $155 million to neighboring Williamson County. But this loss was nearly completely balanced out by an inflow of $151 million from Los Angeles County alone. Other large inflows included Cook County (Chicago), ($67.9 million), Manhattan ($34.6 million), and Orange County, CA ($21.2 million).

Meanwhile, Manhattan saw huge outflows to surrounding suburbs and out-of-state destinations, the largest of which being Florida’s coast. Unlike Nashville, however, there were no major net inflows on a county-by-county basis to counterbalance the net outflows of taxable income, resulting in a net loss of $16.5 billion. Those seeking warmer weather and sunny beaches led the pack, as former New Yorkers took more than $2.9 billion to Miami-Dade County and $1.1 billion in taxable income decamped for Palm Beach County, FL. In fact, 27.7 cents of every dollar leaving Manhattan went to the state of Florida, equaling $4.6 billion in total. Those looking to stay close to the Big Apple headed toward Suffolk County, NY ($2.4 billion), Fairfield County, CT ($1.2 billion), and Westchester County, NY ($684 million).

The state-to-state AGI flow data helps illuminate the economic repercussions of interstate moves early in the pandemic that have otherwise been difficult to identify. Looking solely at the biggest gainers and losers of AGI, we can see that Florida had a net increase of $39.2 billion—nearly $30 billion more than the next closest state. The largest contributor to Florida was New York, which saw a net outflow of $9.8 billion to the sunshine state. On the other end of the spectrum, California saw the largest net outflow, $29.1 billion, the largest share of which went to Texas.

The five largest net AGI flow relationships at the state-to-state level unsurprisingly involved states with major population centers that had significant exits during the pandemic. The top five losses of income across state lines were: New York to Florida ($9.8 billion), California to Texas ($5.6 billion), California to Nevada ($4.4 billion), Illinois to Florida ($3.9 billion), and New Jersey to Florida ($3.8 billion).

Just like at the county level, net AGI flows are not the only side of the story, though, often masking significant turnover both into and out of a place. For many states, we find a trend of significant inflow and outflow occurring simultaneously. Connecticut, for instance, received a net inflow of $2.9 billion from New York but also saw net outflows to Florida of $1.8 billion. In total, Connecticut had a relatively small net inflow of $44 million, nearly a wash after extensive turnover in the state. Georgia had a similarly active level of income transfers in and out, with the largest flow of income actually being an exit of $645 million to Florida, even as it gained $526 million from California. In the end, the Peach State fared relatively better than Connecticut with a net AGI inflow of $1.3 billion.

Geographic Trends  Demographic Trends  

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