Is Cary Still C-A-R-Y? Out-of-State Movers to Wake County, 1993-2018

Growing up in Raleigh, there was a joke about the nearby suburb of Cary standing for Containment Area for Relocated Yankees. As the son of an IBMer relocated from New York in the 1980s, I heard that joke a lot. And it wasn’t limited to Cary, or the North.

Anecdotally, “Northerners” were to blame for most of the changes that occurred in Wake County that people didn’t like, even if the objects of their ire had Florida plates.

I have written about migration in Nashville, Austin, and California, but I have neglected my hometown. And I missed a milestone last year: Wake County surpassed Mecklenburg County as the most populated county in the state, thanks in large part to migration from out of state.

So, here’s what we know about out-of-state transplants to Wake County based on my analysis of migration data from the IRS for 1993-2018:

  • Historically, Wake County has averaged about 28,000 new residents per year from other states, but that number has increased to nearly 35,000 in recent years.
  • For every 100 people who move to Wake County from another county in North Carolina, about 140 people move there from another state, on average.
  • The largest share of new residents in Wake County from out of state come from New York, but it’s only about 12% of the total. Florida is not far behind at ten percent.
  • The county sending the greatest number of people to Wake County is not in New York or Florida. It’s Fairfax County, Virginia.

Now, to be clear, some of those Floridians could be New Yorkers by way of the Sunshine State–retirees with buyer’s remorse, perhaps–as there is no way to track multiple moves for a given household in the IRS data.

But for now, New York is still in the lead as the top-ranking state for out-of-state migration to Wake County.

Source: IRS
Source: IRS

Note: Data is generated from tax records and therefore includes only households filing taxes and is not representative of the entire migrant population. Exemptions are used to estimate number of people.


The Californians Are Coming, the Californians Are Coming

Receptions can be frosty in Portland, Seattle, and, increasingly, Austin, but nobody has absorbed transplants from California quite like Las Vegas and Reno.

One out of ten California residents moving to another state in 2011-2018 relocated to the Las Vegas or Reno areas–about 270,000 in all–according to my analysis of IRS migration data. Las Vegas and Reno combined for nearly three times the number of Californians moving to the Seattle area and more than four times the Austin area.

Here are the top twenty destination counties for people leaving California, ranked by the number of exemptions claimed on tax forms, which we can use to estimate the number of people, with the usual caveats:

Of course, many of the counties at the top of that list are heavily populated and we would expect to see large numbers of people moving to them from California and everywhere else. It’s interesting, but not too revealing, given places like Chicago and New York are on it. California license plates don’t stand out in Chicago like they do in Portland.

So, here’s another look comparing the number of people moving from California to the total residential population of the destination county, in effect, identifying places where transplants might be more conspicuous:

Several smaller counties are on this list–Mohave, Yuma, Onslow, Yavapai, etc.–which I assume must have something to do with snowbirds or retirees and military bases. However, many places are on both lists, such as Reno, Las Vegas, Boise, Austin, Honolulu, Portland, Seattle, and Phoenix. Prime destinations for Californians, nominally and relatively.

The influx of Californians to the Reno area is remarkable. The population of Washoe County is only about 472,000, much smaller than most of the other leading counties on the first list.


IRS: Davidson County among national leaders in attracting residents from out of state

Davidson County was among the leaders nationally in attracting residents from out of state in 2017-2018, according to new data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Nearly 17,000 households representing an estimated 25,000 people (see methodology below) moved to Davidson County from other states in 2017-2018, accounting for the majority of all US-based moves to the county (61%). Davidson County’s net gain, or inflow-outflow, of an estimated 3,358 households from out of state ranked 16th among the 100 largest counties in the country. Maricopa County, AZ (Phoenix) had the largest net gain in households at 21,267, followed by Clark County, NV (Las Vegas) at 15,628, and King County, WA (Seattle) at 10,718. Denver and Wake County (Raleigh) rounded out the top five.

Since nominal change tends to favor large counties—i.e. more people, more moves—it can be helpful to normalize the data to account for differences in total population. Looking at net migration of households from out of state relative to total population, Davidson County jumps up to #7 (Denver is first). In other words, people moving to Davidson County from out of state are having a more significant impact on the size of the overall population here compared to the impact of out-of-state migration in most other large, growing counties.

Where are people coming from?

In terms of migration the top “donor” states to Davidson County ranked by inflow of households (with a minimum of 500) in 2017-2018 were:

  1. Florida 1,206
  2. California 1,152
  3. Texas 847
  4. Illinois 761
  5. Georgia 611
  6. New York 598
  7. Alabama 547
  8. Kentucky 508

In net terms (inflow-outflow) Davidson County gained the most households from Illinois (446), California (367), and Florida (337).

The top ten donor counties to Davidson County were:

  1. Rutherford County 2,183
  2. Williamson County 2,045
  3. Sumner County 1,239
  4. Wilson County 1,022
  5. Shelby County 606
  6. Montgomery County 481
  7. Cook County (IL) 465
  8. Los Angeles County (CA) 437
  9. Robertson County 364
  10. Cheatham County 344

The top ten donor counties from out of state were:

  1. Cook County (IL) 465
  2. Los Angeles County (CA) 437
  3. Fulton County (GA) 239
  4. Harris County (TX) 201
  5. Dallas County (TX) 197
  6. Jefferson County (AL) 181
  7. New York County (NY) 166
  8. San Diego County (CA) 160
  9. Maricopa County (AZ) 158
  10. Kings County (NY) 158

Nearly one out of every five households moving to Tennessee from other states went to Davidson County, followed by Shelby County (13%) and Montgomery County (8%).


The IRS publishes annual data showing the number of tax returns, exemptions, and total adjusted gross income reported in each state and county and then matches addresses in consecutive years of filings to identify migrants. Analysts use these returns to estimate households and exemptions to estimate people, but they are not matched 1:1.

For example, multiple returns can be filed from the same address, and not all exemptions are people. Generally, returns are a more accurate proxy for households than exemptions are for people, which is why most analysts focus on returns when reporting the data. Time periods are expressed in hyphenated years (e.g., 2017-2018) due to tax filing deadlines. The 2017-2018 data set includes reported income earned in Tax Year 2017 only but could reflect a move in 2018 during the filing period for most returns, January-April 15, 2018. Since a move could occur at any time between when the Tax Year 2016 return was filed and when the Tax Year 2017 return was filed it must be expressed as two hyphenated calendar years.

Finally, not everybody is required to file a tax return, meaning the IRS data does not reflect the total population. Please see the user guide posted on the IRS website for a more detailed explanation of data limitations and appropriate interpretation.


The Music City is not adding 100 people per day

From CityLab yesterday on Why Nashville Can’t Quit Country Music:

“Thanks to a surging economy and an onrushing hot-city rep, the Music City has been gaining about 100 new residents a day.”

Not really.

The “100 people per day” is a wonderful talking point for realtors and others leveraging growth to serve a special interest or to support a political argument. But it’s not true, or, to be more accurate, it’s not defensible using publicly available data. Ditto, Austin.