A Bewitching Look at Migration Patterns Among American States

Who would've thought that the state New Yorkers move to the most is Florida?

New York residents must really get sick of the winter snow and gloom. How else to explain that more of them moved to Florida in 2012 than any other state?

That's just one of the fascinating nuggets of demographic trivia waiting to be uncovered in this wild-looking visualization of state-to-state migrations. The prismatic, arc-veined portal – like peering into the scope of an alien hyper-rifle – shows the movements of the roughly 7.1 million Americans who relocated across state lines in 2012. It's based on the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, an annual tabulation of moves that just so happens to include the involuntary uprootings of prisoners and members of the military.

"Restless America" is the work of Chris Walker, a data-analytics virtuoso in Mumbai who also made that clever visualization of property values in New York City. As to why he embarked on this project, Walker explains via email:

I'm really interested in migration, as I think migration patterns show that people still see opportunity and hope for better lives, and they're willing to take risks. I see migration as a form of 'creative destruction'; it renews and enriches some communities while eroding others. This process strains individual cities, but I think it's healthy for the country overall. People need to dream and be allowed to act on their dreams. I wanted to show this on a national scale.

The graphic may look like spaghetti pie at first glance, but it really is beautifully simple once you learn how to navigate it. Here's Walker explaining about that:

The visualization is a circle cut up into arcs, the light-colored pieces along the edge of the circle, each one representing a state. The arcs are connected to each other by links, and each link represents the flow of people between two states. States with longer arcs exchange people with more states (California and New York, for example, have larger arcs). Links are thicker when there are relatively more people moving between two states. The color of each link is determined by the state that contributes the most migrants, so for example, the link between California and Texas is blue rather than orange, because California sent over 62,000 people to Texas, while Texas only sent about 43,000 people to California. Note that, to keep the graphic clean, I only drew a link between two states if they exchanged at least 10,000 people.

For an example, let's go back to New York. If you put the mouse pointer over the state name, the graphic quickly informs you that more people recently exited than entered – 405,864 to 270,053, respectively. It also resolves into this minimalist view:

Gray strings represent all the states that New York sent more than 10,000 people to in 2012. The thickest band runs to Florida; click on it and you'll see that 53,009 New Yorkers headed for the Sunshine State and are perhaps appearing in Florida Man's Twitter feed this very instant. Conversely, 27,392 Floridians moved to New York and might now be experiencing the joy of $14.50 packs of cigarettes.

Regarding the uneven transfer of bodies between these particular states, Walker writes that his "hunch is that these are retirees" decamping for the balmy Southeast. Other popular destinations for people escaping from New York include New Jersey and Pennsylvania, which Walker has a theory for, as well: "More likely these folks are leaving pricey New York City for more affordable suburbs in neighboring states."

Not all interstate transmissions are this lucid. Take a look at California, for instance, which last year had migration pathways to more than 30 states:

With such a geyser of colored lines, it might be hard to immediately fathom a most basic point that in 2012 more people left California (566,986) than entered (493,641). Walker believes the imbalance may be due to residents tired of exorbitant prices seeking a lower cost of living. Here are a few more of his insights:

  • Migrants are flocking to Florida. Interestingly the state contributing the most migrants to Florida is neighboring Georgia. Texas, New York, and North Carolina are the next largest contributors.
  • Texas is the second-largest destination for migrants. Over 500,000 people moved to Texas in 2012. People tend to come from the Southeast, Southwest, and the West, with the biggest contributor being California. 62,702 Californians packed up and moved to the Lone Star state in 2012.
  • Most people leaving DC tend to stay in the area, opting for Virginia or Maryland. The economy of DC, centered around the federal government, seems to discourage more distant migrations.
  • The migrants who leave two very cold states, Maine and Alaska, have very clear preferences. Their most popular destinations are Florida and California.

Images created by Chris Walker

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