You can find all our coverage of Virginia’s changing demographic trends here.
Virginians continue to vote with their feet. And their moving vans.
For the ninth straight year, more people have moved out of Virginia than have moved in.
And the gap between those two numbers is growing; it’s now the biggest deficit the state has seen in four years.
That’s according to the latest migration data from the Internal Revenue Service, which tracks where people file their tax returns from. (Yes, the government knows where you live.)
This is a key metric: If more people are moving out than moving in, that suggests there aren’t enough reasons to hold people here, be that jobs or something else. Gov. Glenn Youngkin has said that net migration is a statistic he regularly pays attention to as a way of monitoring the state’s economic health, and he’s repeatedly called attention to years of net out-migration as a sign that the state isn’t creating enough jobs. He’s used net out-migration as a reason why the state should both cut taxes and to ramp up workforce development and site development.
He won’t like these numbers, which just came out last week, although there is one political consolation: These numbers are for 2021, before he took office. I suspect he will use this data to make anew the case for tax cuts, currently held up in stalled negotiations over amendments to the state budget.
I should caution that these numbers don’t mean that Virginia is losing population. It’s not. Two things drive population growth (or population decline). One is migration, whether more people are moving in or out. The other is whether there are more births than deaths or the other way around. Virginia has continued to gain population, but only because births have outnumbered both deaths and this net out-migration. However, the increased net out-migration does have the effect of slowing the state’s population growth. It also reflects market choice. People don’t choose to be born or die but they do choose where they want to live, and from 2013 onwards we’ve seen Virginians vote against Virginia.
We might want to wonder why.
Here are some key takeaways:
1. Virginia is gaining people from the Northeast and California; losing people to the South.
In 2018, Virginia saw net in-migration of 11,365 from Northeastern states; by 2021 that had grown to a net of 18,191.
By contrast, in 2018 Virginia saw net out-migration of 17,846 to Southern states; by 2021 that deficit had grown to 31,898.
Not surprisingly, migration to and from other parts of the country is smaller, although the net in-migration from the West Coast is growing. In 2018, we had a net gain of 97 from the West Coast; by 2021 that was up to 5,737. That reflects increased out-migration from Oregon and Washington but especially California.
Statistics are funny things, so there are several ways to look at this.
In terms of raw numbers, here are Virginia’s 10 biggest sources of out-of-staters in 2021:
North Carolina: 21,874
New York: 14,198
District of Columbia: 9,796
However, keep in mind that people are moving out of state at the same time — and at greater rates. So here are the top 10 places that Virginians are moving to:
North Carolina: 28,366
South Carolina: 9,369
You’ve probably already spotted some significant trends. Florida and North Carolina are the biggest destinations. Now, combine all that — those moving in and those moving out — and you see the places with which we have population surpluses and the places with which we have population deficits.
Surpluses (net in-migration)
New York: 6,285
District of Columbia: 3,420
New Jersey: 2,750
Deficits (net out-migration)
North Carolina: 6,492
South Carolina: 3,053
West Virginia: 2,256
Some might look at these lists and conclude that Virginia is attracting people from Democratic states and losing them to Republican states (Colorado would be an exception, and North Carolina has a split state government.) That’s certainly one way to look at this, although whether politics is the driving factor is debatable. There are lots of other ways to describe these trends: People are moving to Virginia from colder states and moving out to warmer ones. Maybe politics has nothing to do with it. I’ll let the political types debate that. I’ll just point out the numbers:
Virginia’s net out-migration to Florida is growing. We had a population trade deficit with Florida of 5,917 people in 2018. Now it’s up to 10,594. In terms of numerical change, that’s the single biggest one among all the states we swap populations with. Whether that’s because of Florida’s political climate, its tax climate or simply its old-fashioned weather climate, something is happening here.
I’ll also point out another curious trend: Virginia is increasingly losing people to … West Virginia. In 2018, we had a population trade deficit of 881 with the Mountain State. By 2021, that was up to (or down to) 2,256.
Does anyone else wonder about this?
2. Northern Virginia is driving the state’s out-migration.
We’ve reported this before so I won’t belabor the numbers, but I will repeat for emphasis that this is happening. Both Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads are losing population. They may have more births than deaths but their net out-migration overshadows everything else. You can read my previous reporting on this, but the IRS data underscores it.
Some relevant numbers: In 2021, Virginia’s population trade deficit with other states was 7,224. Fairfax County’s population trade deficit with other states accounted for 3,877 of that, slightly more than half. Here at Cardinal we write a lot about population decline in rural areas, but it’s not rural areas that are the problem here. Buchanan County, which has historically seen the biggest percentage declines in population of any Virginia locality over the past few decades, actually saw 18 more people move in than move out in 2021. If the governor wants to fix Virginia’s net out-migration, he needs to fix Northern Virginia’s net out-migration. In fact …
3. Overall, rural Virginia is now seeing more people move in than move out.
If we look simply at broad regions of the state, we see that since 2020 every region in the state has net in-migration except two: Northern Virginia and, to a lesser extent, Hampton Roads. Obviously the numbers vary locality by locality within those regions but, big picture, we continue to see evidence of a stunning reversal in population trends.
4. Virginia’s migration trends are more like a Northeastern state than a Southern state.
This isn’t new. We’ve seen this before, but here’s yet more data to confirm it. Virginia is losing people through migration; so are many Northeastern states. Meanwhile, virtually every other state in the South is gaining population. Only three Southern states are seeing net out-migration: Louisiana, Mississippi … and Virginia. That’s the company we’re keeping.
Virginia’s net out-migration was, as we’ve said, 7,224. By contrast, North Carolina’s net in-migration was 77,522. South Carolina’s was 64,845. Tennessee’s was 62,304. Georgia’s was 54,738. You don’t want to know Florida’s. Oh, heck, maybe you do: 257,487. As someone who lives down a rural road where my closest neighbor is a bear, I’m not exactly a fan of population growth. I’m on pretty good terms with the bear and would take him (or her) over a lot of people, as long as he (or she) stays out of the trash. But I must still ask why so many people are finding those other states more desirable than Virginia. Something seems to happen at the state line when you cross into North Carolina and Tennessee, so what is it? Does William Byrd’s old survey line have some magic woven into it?
5. The people moving out make more money than the people moving in.
The total adjusted gross income of people moving into Virginia in 2021 was $11,083,778. The total adjusted gross income of people moving out of Virginia that year was $12,916,310. Not only did we lose a net of 7,244 people, we lost $1.8 million as well. Maybe that doesn’t matter to you but it matters to somebody. That’s $1.8 million in lost spending power — money that might have circulated through the Virginia economy somehow.
6. We’re losing more workers than snowbirds.
Here’s the part that will alarm the governor the most. When Virginia’s net out-migration began in 2013, it was confined to older age cohorts — people who retired and became the proverbial snowbirds, flocking to sunnier climes in the Southeast. Over the years, though, we saw every age cohort post net out-migration. Now comes this: Hamilton Lombard, a demographer with the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia, calls my attention to an accompanying set of data, which looks at net in-migration by age and income. “The data has a good deal of suppression to preserve privacy, which makes it difficult to interpret, but it seems to show that the main income groups Virginia is losing are those earning over $75,000 and 35 and older,” he tells me. “The population over 65 only has slight out-migration, so much of the migration to Florida is likely not retirees.”
In fact, only 4.9% of the net out-migration appears to be due to those 65 and over (again, this data is limited, so consider it a guide, not gospel). We do see some net in-migration in the under-35 age cohorts; this is a change. It may be just a one-year statistical blip or could be the start of a new trend. We just don’t know yet. Lombard’s take on the new IRS stats: “Overall though, the trend they show lines up with census data showing Virginia (particularly Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads) pulling in young adults who are starting their careers and losing many as they progress and have more job options.”
This seems like a demographic alarm bell, one that I know the governor hears ringing.
I’ll be diving deeper into these stats to see what else I can find. But these are the headlines for now, and they’re not pretty ones.