Census shows less American mobility, Minnesota fits trend

U.S. Census figures show that the number of people who move from state to state, and within states and counties, is at historic lows.

And while the new findings do not include a state-by-state breakdown, Minnesota state demographer Tom Gillaspy said the downward trend is also evident here, even as the state experiences a slight uptick in migration from other states.

Last year, about 35 million Americans, or 11.6 percent of the population, packed their belongings and moved to a new place. Most moved within their own county. A much smaller number of Americans moved to a different state.

That's the lowest number of movers recorded by the Census since it started collecting such information in 1948. Experts say the declining number of Americans on the move reflects the nation's sagging economy.

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The trend is particularly evident among people in their 20s who are often just graduating from college, said demographer Bill Frey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. In 2005, the mobility rate for people in their mid 20s was about 10 percent. Last year, it fell to about 7.5 percent.

"This is kind of interesting because it's college graduates that fuel our economy," Frey said. "These are the people that tend to have the higher migration rate compared to other categories of skill levels in the United States, especially for long distance migration, because they're the ones that follow the jobs."

Migration rates for homeowners also hit historic lows. Frey said that is a reflection of poor housing markets across the country.

"People who live in owned homes can't sell their homes," he said. "They're not able to buy new homes because of the credit crunch and perhaps the recession. But we really see this is kind of a significant part of the migration decline."


As in many states, suburban sprawl in Minnesota has slowed as the economy has faltered, Gillaspy said. However, that apparently hasn't deterred people from moving to Minnesota.

In 2010, Minnesota saw a slight net gain in population. But Gillaspy said most new Minnesota residents don't come from very far away.

"Not surprisingly, we tend to get more people coming and going from out neighboring states: Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota," he said. Some also moved here from other countries.

Wisconsin tops the list as the state most Minnesotans have moved from or moved to. Last year 18,000 people moved from Wisconsin to Minnesota, while nearly 17,000 moved from Minnesota to Wisconsin.

Gillaspy said the migration numbers can change, depending on the supply and demand for jobs. For example, he said, traditionally more people migrate from North Dakota to Minnesota than the other way around. But that was until North Dakota's oil industry picked up.

"That's attracting more people to North Dakota," he said. "So Minnesota, being a close-by state, is sending more people and receiving less. But we still got people going both ways."

Nevertheless, Minnesota remains a magnet — at least for some.

Steve Sorola, a Michigan native, moved to Minnesota 10 years ago to work for the federal government. Like many others, his decision was motivated by a desire to further his career.

"You have to be mobile if you want to advance up the ladder," Sorola said. "I'm single. I chose to make that relocation."

Katherine Grossman has a similar story. She moved to the Twin Cities earlier this year from Salt Lake City, Utah.

"This was like an economic decision to move here," said Grossman, 35. "Salt Lake City wasn't really offering a lot of opportunities at the time that I felt were available to me."

But Grossman also moved to be closer to her family. Grossman said she is originally from Milwaukee, and likes being close enough to her parents to visit them on holidays.


However, Census data show more than 60 percent of people who live in Minnesota are born here.

Among them is St. Paul-native Dawn Steward, who has lived in many different parts of the country and Europe for months at a time. But she keeps coming back to Minnesota.

"It's a great place to live," said Grossman, 47. "It's a great place to raise kids. When you got to other states and you see how much more fast-paced the lifestyles are, it's nice to be able to come here and relax."

Minnesota joins other Midwestern states with high populations of native-born residents. According to census data, more than 70 percent of people who live in Iowa and Wisconsin are native residents who either leave and come back or never leave the state at all.