Here’s Why It Seems Like Everyone You Meet in Austin Is from Out-of-State

This story was written by Mose Buchele and appeared on

Here’s Why It Seems Like Everyone You Meet in Austin Is from Out-of-State

If it seems like most of the people you meet in Austin just moved here from some other state, it turns out, many of them have.

The numbers – analyzed by Brian Kelsey of the Austin-based economic research firm Civic Analytics – come from the IRS, which tracks where people file their tax returns from year-to-year.

Kelsey says Travis County ranked third among U.S. counties receiving the most new residents from other states – about 265,000 people came from out-of-state between 2011 to 2014.

Obviously, this isn’t something unique to Travis County – other big Texas counties get plenty of out-of-town transplants – but, he says, it feels more noticeable here.

“The interesting thing about Travis County is that newcomers coming from other states make up a larger share of the total population here,” he says. “Part of that [difference] is because Travis County is a smaller county than, say, Dallas County or Harris County. Given a hundred people you run into off the street, you’re more likely to run into somebody from another state than some of those other places.”

What’s more, only about a third of Travis County newcomers from 2011 to 2014 were from Texas – compared to 60 percent in Dallas and a near-50-50 split in both Bexar and Harris counties. Kelsey says that’s a relatively new trend.

“If you go back 10 years – even five or six years – the majority of people moving into Travis County were from other parts of Texas…based on this new data that’s actually now flipped,” he says.

Like last year’s analysis, which only examined 2012-2013 data, Florida tops the list of states other than Texas that sent the most citizens to the Austin area, followed by California, Georgia, New York and Illinois.

You can read Kelsey’s full analysis here.

Most people moving to Travis County are now coming from other states

The majority of people moving to Travis County are now coming from other states, according to new data from IRS.

An estimated 265,000 people moved to Travis County from other states in 2011-2014, third-highest among counties behind Maricopa (Phoenix) and Los Angeles. On its own, that doesn’t sound all that exciting, or surprising. During periods of strong economic growth big places tend to attract a lot of people, especially from other big places, and Austin is experiencing the best economy in a generation.

As others have pointed out, several Texas counties are among the leaders nationally in attracting new residents from other states. So why, then, does it “feel” different in Austin compared to other high-growth places? Why does it seem like there are so many more out-of-state transplants here fueling population growth? Confirmation bias in the form of staring at Florida or California license plates while sitting in traffic or getting outbid on a house from an “out-of-state buyer paying cash” may have something to do with it. But there is ample evidence in the recently released IRS data to suggest that perceptions reflect demographic reality.

  • Five Texas counties ranked among the top twenty counties nationally in number of movers from other states in 2011-2014: Travis (#3), Harris (#5), Dallas (#10), Tarrant (#14), and Bexar (#16). But of that group, out-of-state movers made up a clear majority (66%) of total domestic movers in only Travis County, i.e. 34% of people moving to Travis County from somewhere else in the US came from some other county in Texas. Bexar County (San Antonio) and Harris County (Houston) were about evenly split between in-state and out-of-state, but Dallas County (62% in-state) and Tarrant County (60% in-state) tipped strongly in the other direction. Same goes for Williamson, Collin, Denton, Fort Bend, and most other large, fast-growing suburban counties around the state.
  • Of the 24 counties on the receiving end of 100,000 or more out-of-state movers in 2011-2014, five stand out as outliers, with (1) out-of-state movers making up 60% or more of total movers into the county; and (2) out-of-state movers (summed 2011-14) representing a relatively large share (10% or more) of total residents:
    1. Travis County, Texas (Austin) – total out-of-state movers in 2011-14 were 23% of total residents, by far the greatest concentration among large counties with the most out-of-state movers and nearly all counties of any size with significant military presence, a key driver of out-of-state migration.
    2. El Paso County, Colorado (Colorado Springs) – military (Fort Carson, Peterson and Schriever AFB, Air Force Academy, NORAD), US Olympic Training Center.
    3. Clark County, Nevada (Las Vegas) – well, Vegas.
    4. Honolulu County, Hawaii – this one shouldn’t need any explanation.
    5. Mecklenburg County, North Carolina (Charlotte) – among fastest growing places in US, a major finance center, located on the border of two states.
  • Out-of-state movers to Travis County outnumbered out-of-state movers to 24 states and Washington DC, and came within 1,000 movers, or 0.4%, of Oklahoma.

New migration data always makes a big splash, as politicians are quick to take credit (or deflect blame), and several moving companies have gotten into the game lately. For Austin, it’s yet another reminder that you are living in the best economy you’re likely to experience–that is, if you are able to keep up.

Among Austin transplants, Florida is the new California

This story was written by Marty Toohey and appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on 09/05/15.

Among Austin transplants, Florida is the new California

“Californian” has for years been Austin’s shorthand for someone, usually of means, who moves here from another part of the country. But no more. Florida is the new California.

Here are five things to know about the newest migration pattern:

1. Nearly twice as many Floridians moved to Travis County in 2012-13 as did Californians. The Sunshine State sent 13,347 transplants here versus 7,959 from the Golden State,according to Internal Revenue Service data and further analysis by Austin economist Brian Kelsey. That ratio held for 2011-12 as well.

2. When you calculate net migration between Travis County and other states (people coming here minus people going there), Florida still remains the top feeder with 9,695 net arrivals. But New York (4,416 net arrivals) slipped past California (4,278) for the No. 2 spot. This trend held in 2011-12 as well.

3. Think it’s California tech money pushing up earnings? Floridians brought higher gross-adjusted incomes ($128,509 per household) than did Californians ($98,979) in 2012-13, according to the IRS data.

4. It’s not clear whether the Florida influx, which only surpassed California in the two most recent years of data, is a long-term pattern, Kelsey said. The IRS changed its methodology starting with the 2011-12 data by including late filers who previously weren’t counted and by better tracking people as they shift from a dependent to filing their own tax return, for instance.

5. Texans still by far make up the most people moving in and out of Travis County. But there’s a consolation prize for California: It remains the top out-of-state destination for people moving out of Travis County, edging out Florida in 2012-13 by 29 people.


Blame Florida? The Sunshine State Sends More Transplants to Austin Than California or NY

This story was written by Mose Buchele and appeared on KUT on 08/27/15.

Blame Florida? The Sunshine State Sends More Transplants to Austin Than California or NY

Sure, Austin revels in its youthful reputation, but a lot of the people coming here are probably not fresh-out-of-college looking to form a band or a startup.

A new look at income migration from the IRS shows that newly-arrived Austinites aren’t as young as previously thought. What’s more, the highest concentration of transplants isn’t from either of the tried-and-true drivers of Austin population growth, New York and California. They’re from Florida.

“There’s been some speculation lately that more and more retirees are picking Austin and this data certainly implies that that could be the case,” says Brian Kelsey with Civic Analytics, an Austin-based economic research firm.

The recently-released data tracks where people file their tax returns from one year to the next. He says people that are moving to Travis County are bringing a lot of money with them. In fact, the most recent 2012-2013 data show newly-arrived income in Travis County totaled about $2.3 billion dollars. Kelsey says that means many newcomers are probably older, maybe even retirees.

“If you look around the country at the counties that receive the most higher net worth people. It’s usually those destination retirement counties in Florida and Phoenix,” Kelsey says.

That brings us to the whole “California” thing. People are used to thinking California transplants were driving growth in Austin. Actually, Kelsey says, California’s in third place. New York is in second. The data puts Florida is in first place, for which, Kelsey says, there are a couple of reasons.

“Now we’re seeing Florida kind of coming out of nowhere. That could be something in the methodology that changed, where there was historically an undercount [of people] from Florida and that’s been corrected, or it could be that migration is actually increasing,” he says.

Kelsey says one thing’s for sure: People moving here with higher household incomes than the local average are able to pay more for things. That contributes to the local affordability issues we hear so much about.

“You’re going to see that show up in rents, you’re going to see that show up in housing costs,” he says. “And, just generally, it’s going to affect the aggregate amount of income in Austin for everything from discretionary money spent at restaurants to housing costs.”

Kelsey says the IRS plans to release more recent 2013-2014 data before the end of the summer.

Migration Added $2.3 Billion to Travis County Income in 2012-2013

Governing published a stunning statistic about Travis County in its review of the 2011-2012 migration data released earlier this month by the IRS. Mike Maciag pointed out in The Counties Where Wealthier People Are Moving that Travis County ranked second nationally in the amount of net income gained as a result of people relocating–i.e. income of people moving in minus income of people moving out. Travis County at #2 ranked among some of the most popular retirement destinations in the country, including Palm Beach County (#1) and Collier County (#3) in Florida, as well as Maricopa County (Phoenix) in Arizona (#4). Travis County gained net adjusted gross income in the amount of approximately $1.1 billion in 2011-2012, a truly stunning figure, especially when compared to wealthy enclaves for retirees, where migrating net worth tends to be a one-way trip.

Stunning, that is, until the IRS released the 2012-2013 data yesterday.

Net adjusted gross income flowing into Travis County in 2012-2013 totaled about $2.3 billion, more than double the amount for 2011-2012, and nearly all (97%) of it came from people moving to Travis County from other states. I’ll wait for Governing to update their interactive to see where Travis County ranks nationally for 2012-2013, but based on a quick check of Palm Beach County and a few others from 2011-2012, I’m guessing Travis County will be at or near the top of the list again.

A few other observations from the 2012-2013 release:

An estimated 68,664 households and 115,006 people moved to Travis County in 2012-2013, up by at least 35% from 2011-2012. Accounting for people moving out, net migration added an estimated 26,883 households and 41,210 people to the Travis County population in 2012-2013, according to IRS data. Changes in methodology at the IRS prevent us from comparing the 2011-2013 data to previous years. But I’ve been watching this data for Travis County since 2005 and this is the first time we’ve been anywhere near 100,000 movers.

Florida has surpassed California as Travis County’s most significant donor state. Historically, Florida consistently ranked in the top five, but always well behind California. Now, Florida is well ahead, which leads me to believe that there may be something quirky going on with the IRS data. Perhaps the change in methodology has fixed a historic undercount for Florida. Whatever the case, net migration from Florida added an estimated 6,647 households and 9,695 people to the Travis County population in 2012-2013, compared to just 2,092 households and 4,278 people from California. Net transfer of wealth was also much greater from Florida compared to California. Travis County gained approximately $1.1 billion from Florida movers, compared to just $261 million from California. Estimated adjusted gross income per household for Florida residents moving to Travis County in 2012-2013 was $128,509, compared to $98,979 for California households.

Speaking of California, Austinites might have to find another scapegoat, at least when it comes to blaming the state for driving population growth. In addition to Florida, California also trailed New York in net migration to Travis County for both 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, and Georgia wasn’t far behind in 2012-2013. However, you are likely still safe in blaming Californians for driving up housing costs, or perhaps thanking them for fueling Austin’s love-affair with high-priced foodism, whichever way you prefer to look at it. With an estimated average adjusted gross income of $98,979 per household, Californians moving to Travis County have relatively higher incomes than movers from other states sending significant numbers of residents to Austin, with the exception of Florida ($128,509).

Consistent with previous years, in-state movers had little impact on Travis County’s net increase in population due to migration, according to IRS data. Virtually the same number of people moved into Travis County from other counties in Texas as moved out. Travis County’s net gain in population resulting from migration can be attributed almost entirely to people moving to Travis County from other states.

For questions about the IRS data, see my recent primer on migration. I’d be interested in your thoughts on Florida in the comments section. Some have speculated a recent influx of retirees to Austin.

The Californians Are Coming, the Californians Are Coming

This story was written by Terrence Henry and was published on on 07/20/15.

Austin’s ‘Most Invasive Species’ Isn’t the One You Might Think

Central Texas is under attack. No, not Jade Helm, or even the summer swarms of mosquitoes. We’re talking about an invasive species. Zebra Mussels? Nope. Fire ants? Try again. We’re talking about an even more supposed “invasive” species: Californians.

They arrive with their telltale license plates, often heading straight to In-N-Out Burger and Trader Joe’s. As Austin continues to grow at a rapid pace, plenty of anecdotal blame has fallen on people moving here from California. Except … they’re not?

Turns out the net total of Californians moving to Travis County each year is only about 1,000 people.

“So, in a county that’s 1.1, 1.2 million people, that is a tiny, tiny, almost unnoticeable portion of the growth here. You know, in overall terms, it’s a very, very insignificant driver of population growth,” says Brian Kelsey, a principal with the economic research and planning firm Civic Analytics.

Kelsey looked at the most recent numbers available (2008-2012) from the Census Bureau and IRS to see where people are moving to Austin from. Of the people that move here from out of state, about one in seven is from California. But more than half of the people moving to Austin aren’t even from out of state — they’re from Texas. (You can read the full analysis at Civic Analytics.)

“Sixty percent of the people moving to Travis County come from other parts of Texas. So yes, the majority of people who move here every year are from another county in Texas,” Kelsey says.

So, if you want to blame someone for moving to Austin, you’ve got to start with Texans first.

Migration Matters: Is California Ruining Austin?

A recent article over at Do512 reminded me to check for new migration data from the IRS, and, unfortunately, we’re still waiting on 2012. While we wait, here’s a refresher course on the extent to which we can blame California for worsening traffic, rising home prices and rents, or any of the other consequences of Austin’s growth and economic success.

Data Challenges

There are many. The two most commonly used sources of data on migration are the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) and tax records from the IRS. ACS estimates are derived from samples and therefore have margins of error to deal with, and IRS data excludes people who don’t file taxes. Both have considerable time lags, and are subject to regular attacks by free-dum loving politicians, jeopardizing future availability. ACS provides summary statistics for how many people move in and out of cities, but not much on specific origins or destinations. IRS provides county-to-county looks, but nothing for cities.

So, the best we can do to get a handle on the impact of migration from California to Austin (city) is to use ACS and IRS data and look at Travis County. Hopefully one day we will find a client to foot the bill for exploring the reliability of migration data from private vendors, or perhaps even collect our own primary data for Austin, but for now we are limited to what’s available from public sources.

Interpretation Challenges

This is different from challenged interpreters, who are usually politicians and boosters emphasizing move-ins and neglecting move-outs. Believe it or not, people do actually decide to move away from Texas, and, yes, even Austin. Interpretation challenges include things like boomerang migration–e.g., somebody moves from San Francisco to Austin, toughs out two summers here while developing a newfound appreciation for BART, and then moves back to San Francisco. That person shows up in the data as one “Californian” moving to Travis County and then one “Austinite” moving to California. Or, to complicate even further, make that person an Austin native who moves to San Francisco, can’t find acceptable brisket or $2 Lone Star anywhere, and then moves back to Austin. He shows up in the data as a “Californian” moving to Travis County, when, really, the two moves should cancel each other out, at least in how we commonly perceive and talk about migration’s impact on Austin.

Same goes for what Ryan Robinson, City of Austin’s demographer, calls “two-step” migration. Suppose somebody moves from San Francisco to Dallas and then the following year to Austin. She shows up in the data as a California transplant to Dallas County in year one, but then as a Texas transplant to Travis County in year two. She may even still have California plates, but, according to the data, she’s a Texan.

And there are other limitations to be aware of. For example, IRS migration statistics are reported in tax terms–i.e. number of returns and exemptions as reported on tax filings, not households and people. Most researchers use returns as proxies for households and exemptions as proxies for people, but they are not one-to-one comparisons (e.g., a married couple filing separately can be two returns but one household). Further, the IRS goes to great lengths with statistical procedures employed to maintain confidentiality. Consequently, there are missing values, especially for small and rural counties.

While you may feel perfectly comfortable drawing conclusions about how wealthy your new neighbor from California is by looking at home prices on Zillow or TCAD, being able to derive her household income from IRS migration data would be bad. We can’t track movements of unique households or individuals over time, either, just in aggregate snapshots, which makes migration analysis difficult but keeps the purveyors of freedom in Congress at bay.

The Californicators (I miss John Kelso’s regular column)

How many Californians are invading Austin? Somewhere between approximately 58,000 (IRS) and 81,000 (ACS) people moved to Travis County from another county in the U.S., on average, per year during 2008-2012. Roughly 60% of those new residents in Travis County came from some other county in Texas. The estimated number of people moving from California to Travis County annually between 2008 and 2012 ranged from approximately 3,800 (IRS, 2011 reporting year) to 4,400 (ACS). So that means California was responsible for about 15% of the 24,000 (IRS) to 29,700 (ACS) moving to Travis County from outside Texas on average per year during 2008-12.

California is, by far, the most significant “donor” state of residents to Travis County, but still pales in comparison to the number of people moving here from other parts of Texas. Further, California doesn’t make up anything close to a majority of people moving to Travis County from other states–for every seven people you meet who have moved here from another state, only one of them is likely to be from California.

Now, what happens when we account for people moving out of Travis County? Estimates for people moving out of Travis County to another county in the U.S. ranged from approximately 50,900 (IRS) to 69,000 (ACS), on average, per year during 2008-2012. Travis County usually breaks even, more or less, with the rest of Texas–i.e. the number of people moving in to Travis County from another county in Texas is roughly equivalent to the number of people moving out of Travis County to another county in Texas. That can change in some years depending on local economic conditions, but over the long term and looking at both IRS and ACS data it’s roughly a stalemate, with Travis County gaining at most 1,000-1,500 people per year.

Net migration (move-ins – move-outs) from other states is more of a factor in Travis County’s overall population growth. Travis County gained, on average, somewhere in the range of 8,505 (IRS) to 9,200 (ACS) people per year from other states during 2008-2012, including approximately 1,000 (ACS) to 1,400 (IRS) from California. To put that into perspective, average attendance at an Austin Aztex home game is 2,687. So, using the high end of the range, the number of people Travis County is gaining (net) from California every year is equivalent to about one-half the number of people you will find at an Aztex game. Not exactly what I’d call a population “driver.”

Well can we at least blame them for rising home prices?

Sadly, this, too, is problematic, or at least unclear. Using the IRS migration data (2011), adjusted gross income per return (household) for people moving from California to Travis County was $78,384, well above the $67,118 for existing Travis County residents (non-movers), but well below some other states.

Illinois, for example, sends one-third as many people to Travis County as California, but adjusted gross income per return for Illinois transplants was nearly twice that of California ($148,173), according to IRS data (2011). In fact, people moving to Travis County from seven other states had higher adjusted gross incomes per return than people moving to Travis County from California that year. While the aggregate impact of more Californians with higher than average incomes moving to Travis County may outweigh the impact of other, even higher income states with fewer transplants, Californians are not the wealthiest people moving here, at least on average.

Visit Census Flows Mapper for breakdowns of migration by income, race/ethnicity, educational attainment, employment status, and more. Perhaps you can even shed some light on the reported “mass exodus” of Austin residents.