Golden State Debate: Are “most” people moving to Austin from California? (2019 update)

Few topics can get Austinites going like the role of migration, and particularly transplants from California, in the city’s astounding growth. It’s the problem people love to hate, until they sell their homes.

While out-of-state plates and sight-unseen, cash offers may be the most conspicuous signs of Austin’s appeal to West Coasters and other non-Texans, is the ire directed at Californians warranted? Just a few years ago the share of people moving to Travis County from California was on the decline relative to Florida. But according to new data on taxpayer moves from the IRS, that is no longer the case.

Californians, welcome back to the hot seat.

In 2018-2019, nearly 50,000 households containing 80,000 people moved to Travis County from other places in Texas, the US, or abroad, based on estimates from tax returns and reported exemptions.* The majority (54%) moved to Travis County from other counties in Texas, with the largest share coming from Williamson County (17%). Those figures were roughly unchanged from 2017-2018. Williamson County is consistently the most significant source of people moving to Travis County; it’s also the most popular destination for people moving out of Travis County.

According to my analysis of the IRS data, approximately 8,000 people moved from California to Travis County in 2018-2019. Los Angeles was the leading source, followed by Santa Clara and San Diego. By contrast, nearly 43,000 residents of Texas moved to Travis County from other places in Texas. Or more than five Texas transplants per Californian.

However, Californians do make up the largest share of people moving to the Austin area from out of state, and their numbers are growing. Californians accounted for about 21% of all out-of-state movers to Travis County in 2018-2019; Florida was next with only 6%. And tax returns indicate that the number of people moving from California to the Austin area in 2018-2019 was up by 10% compared to the previous year.

So, “most” people moving to the Austin area are not from California. They are not even from out of state. They are, in fact, people moving from other places in Texas (remembering, of course, that not all people are required to file taxes, which means this data represents a significant portion of movers but does not capture everybody).

But despite being only one out of every ten people moving to Austin, the IRS data does provide some quantitative evidence for stories about Californians having an outsized impact on things like the housing market. For example, average adjusted gross income per household moving from Santa Clara County to Travis County in 2018-2019 was nearly $200,000, compared to about $120,000 for existing residents of Travis County (“non-movers” in IRS parlance).

And it’s not just Californians. Earnings for households moving to the Austin area from the Chicago area were about $150,000; transplants from New York earned more than $250,000, on average.

So, according to this new data from the IRS, most people moving to the Austin area (as of 2018-2019), are from Texas, not California. It just may not feel like it.

* The IRS data tracks county-to-county and state-to-state moves of taxpayers from the time they file tax returns in one year to the time they file in the subsequent year. Moves within the same county are not included in these figures. For a detailed explanation of the methodology, consult the Documentation section on the SOI Tax Stats website.