United Van Lines Migration Data Shows Taxes Matter

Mar 05, 2017

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Migration Map 2016.jpg

Obviously, we love data here at Key Policy Data. Before the internet age, most data come from the official bean counters at the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Economic Analysis or dozens of other federal and state agencies. Today, however, many private companies are making public use of their data such as the 2016 United Van Lines migration study.

According to their press release and table below:

Moving In

The top inbound states of 2016 were:

1. South Dakota

2. Vermont

3. Oregon

4. Idaho

5. South Carolina

6. Washington

7. District of Columbia

8. North Carolina

9. Nevada

10. Arizona


South Dakota is the most popular moving destination of 2016 with nearly 68 percent of moves to and from the state being inbound. The state has continued to climb the ranks, increasing inbound migration by 23 percent over the past five years. New to the 2016 top inbound list are South Dakota at No. 1 and Arizona at No. 10 with 68 and 57 percent inbound moves, respectively.

Moving Out

The top outbound states for 2016 were:

1. New Jersey

2. Illinois

3. New York

4. Connecticut

5. Kansas

6. Kentucky

7. West Virginia

8. Ohio

9. Utah

10. Pennsylvania

In addition to the Northeast, Illinois (63 percent) moved up one spot on the outbound list, to no. 2, ranking in the top five for the last eight years.

New additions to the 2016 top outbound list include Kentucky (58 percent), Utah (56 percent) and Pennsylvania (56 percent).

United Van Lines National Movers Study Table 2016.jpg

Of course, this begs the question as to WHY these folks are packing up the moving van and moving to another state. Our friends at the Mackinac Center in Michigan have extensively used the United Van Lines migration data and have found it to be both reliable and insightful:

Before critics dismiss UVL data as an unrepresentative sample, consider that the Mackinac Center has done a statistical analysis comparing years of the company data to actual migration statistics published by the United States Census Bureau and found the two to be highly correlated.

Migration is important because people move to places where there is opportunity. Ball State University Business Economist and Mackinac Center Adjunct Scholar Michael Hicks in 2010 used a model to find out what may be driving people between states. His conclusion was that people were moving to states with more flexible labor climates, more days of sunshine and lower taxes.

Specifically, Hicks found that for every 10 percent increase in personal taxes, Michigan loses 4,900 people each year afterward. In other words, the 11.5 percent personal income tax increase imposed on the Great Lake State in 2007 may have already chased away more than 35,000 of our fellow residents.

As such, Mackinac’s analysis finds that policymakers do have control over one major determinant of migration—taxes! So let’s look at this more deeply.

Using data from our tax burden app, Chart 1 shows the tax burden, as a percent of personal income, of all the top INBOUND states relative to the U.S. average. As you can see all the states but one, Vermont, have a tax burden lower than the U.S. average. Also, only 4 of those states are “warm” so perhaps weather is a bit over-rated.

Chart 1 Top UVL Inbound States Tax Burden 2016.jpg

On the flip side, Chart 2 shows the tax burden, as a percent of personal income, of the top OUTBOUND states relative to the U.S. average. All but 4 states, Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio, and Utah, have a tax burden that is higher than the U.S. average.

Chart 2 Top UVL Outbound States Tax Burden 2016.jpg

The United Van Lines study goes on to state that many people are moving for retirement, company relocations, and to be closer to family. Our analysis and others find that policymakers can “bend the curve” in their state’s favor by having a below average tax burden.

Finally, check out this cool slideshow of all the United Van Lines results from 1978 to 2016. This helps you see if how your state has fared over the years.

Category: Tax Burdens

J. Scott Moody

Scott has nearly 20 years of experience as a public policy economist. He is the author, co-author and editor of over 180 studies and books. His professional experience also includes positions at the American Conservative Union Foundation, Granite Institute, Federalism In Action, Maine Heritage Policy Center, Tax Foundation, and Heritage Foundation.

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