Americans are moving to the South in greater numbers than ever. The Associated Press reports the center of population in the United States "is on track this decade to take a southern swerve for the first time in history." While the Northeast and Midwestern regions of the country are losing residents, six of the 10 fastest-growing states came from below the Mason-Dixon line, including Texas, Florida, North Carolina, and Georgia. If the trend continues, the center of population — now located in the Missouri Ozarks — will head due south instead of west for the first time in American history. Why are Americans headed south? And what might that mean for our politics and culture? Here's everything you need to know:
Why are Americans moving south?
This has been happening for a while. Back in 2016, Pew's Stateline news service pointed out that "Snow Belt-to-Sun Belt migration" had picked up again after a lull during the Great Recession and its aftermath. The Hill says that the COVID-19 pandemic may have accelerated the trend. "We're seeing this not only occur because of Americans' desire to leave high-density areas due to risk of infection, but also due to the transformation of how we're able to work, with more flexibility to work remote," UCLA's Michael A. Stoll said in 2022.
Climate may also be a driving factor: Forbes reports on Postal Service data which suggests that many Americans "are leaving large cities and chilly states for less congested areas and warmer climes." And AP says other factors could include housing affordability, lower taxes, and the retirement of Baby Boomers. Economics matters: Fortune reported in August that Florida is attracting wealthy Americans at four times the rate of any other state.
Is there a racial component to this?
Yes. In 2022, The Washington Post reported on a "new Great Migration" of Black Americans from cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago to southern states. (The original Great Migration was the movement of Black people fleeing the Jim Crow South to northern cities from the 1910s to the 1970s.) "The percentage of Black Americans who live in the South has been increasing since 1990," the Post reported — with the biggest gains coming in urban areas: The Black population of Atlanta more than doubled between 1990 and 2020. The Brookings Institution's William H. Frey adds that "the movement is largely driven by younger, college-educated Black Americans, from both northern and western places of origin."
What states are getting left behind?
California tops the list, though AP notes that other Western states — Alaska, Hawaii, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington — saw a population loss in 2022. (Yahoo Finance, citing analysts from Bank of America Global Research, says data shows New York and Illinois are big losers too.) The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago reported in July on data that showed large numbers of Californians leaving for places like Texas, Florida, and Virginia. "An acceleration of people leaving coastal California began during the first year of the pandemic," says the Los Angeles Times. Data since then shows "it continued even after lockdowns and other COVID restrictions eased." Why? The high cost of housing in the Golden State seems to be a big reason.
So is this a California versus Texas and Florida thing?
Not entirely, but you wouldn't know that from the big personalities leading those big states. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a contender for the GOP's 2024 presidential nomination, has made California-bashing a regular part of his messaging. "I was born and raised in this state and until the last few years I rarely saw a California license plate in the state of Florida," DeSantis said in July. "You now see a lot of them. I can tell you if you go to California you ain't seeing many Florida license plates." Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, another Republican, also often plays up the influx of Californians to his state. But California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat also said to be eyeing the White House, has also taken some shots — buying ad time on Fox News inviting Floridians who don't like DeSantis' conservative agenda to "join us in California."
What does this mean for the future of American politics?
Observers are still trying to figure that out. In 2019, The Atlantic's Derek Thompson pointed out that "today's domestic migrants are often college graduates of the exceedingly liberal Generations Y and Z" who are "helping to turn southern metros into Democratic strongholds." And indeed, the influx of new residents to Georgia may have given Democrats an edge in the presidential and U.S. Senate races in 2020. On the other hand, one-time swing state Florida emerged from the 2020 and 2022 elections redder than ever. It's something that politicians are clearly thinking about — though Texas' Abbott suggests everything should even out. "We have an exchange program going on," he told the conservative CPAC conference in August. "We're getting the California conservatives, we're sending them our liberals."