Over 100 Years of MA Migration Patterns in One Chart

By David Bloch | 08/18/2014

The United States has been defined by repeated waves of mass colonization and immigration – from the first British settlers of the 1600s to the Latin American migrant workers of the present day. The tales of our ancestors’ journeys to America are an integral part of our national myth. We all know the story – “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses” – yada, yada, yada. 

But as the New York Times points out, while a lot of attention is paid to immigration from other countries, that’s not the whole story:

“The movement of people from one state to another can have an even bigger influence on the United States’ economy, politics and culture. Americans have already seen this with the Western expansion, the movement of Southern blacks to Northern cities and the migration from the Rust Belt.”

Domestic migration patterns today are driven largely by long-term transformations of regional economies and changes wrought by globalization and the Great Recession. Other factors – climate, culture, and cost of living – also play a part. Current domestic migration patterns point South and West. The rust belt states of the Northeast and Midwest are still experiencing a net loss of people to states – mostly in the South and West – with more job opportunities and a lower cost of living.

Massachusetts has consistently ranked among the top states with more people moving out than in. Just last year, 56% more people moved out than in. In addition to states in the South and West, many out-bound middle class families also choose New Hampshire, with its lower cost of living and tax burden.

Massachusetts in-bound domestic migrants mostly fit the same mold: young, educated, single, and seeking work in the knowledge economy. The Bay State’s technology, bio-technology, higher education, finance, and healthcare industries compete with states like California and New York for the country’s best and brightest “skilled” workers. In-bound domestic migrants account for 19% of residents.

The only factor that has kept Massachusetts’ population growing at a slow, but steady rate is foreign immigration. Massachusetts, at 18%, has one of the highest rates of foreign-born residents in the country, and attracts both skilled and “unskilled” workers.

Massachusetts, unlike most states, currently has an almost equal ratio of people born in another country to people born in another state. Here’s the full breakdown:

  • 63% born in MA
  • 18% born in another country
  • 7% born in another state in the northeast
  • 4% born in New York
  • 3% born in the south
  • 3% born in the mid-west
  • 2% born in the west

See how both foreign immigration and domestic migration levels have changed since 1900:

© New York Times

Click to view full size.

Levels of foreign-born residents peeked in 1910 at 31% of the population and were at a low-point in 1970, when they accounted for only 10% of the population. 1970 also witnessed the high-point of Massachusetts-born residents at a whopping 74%.

Domestic migration is more relevant to Massachusetts than ever. Our economy depends on attracting a constant, growing supply of skilled workers, but we continue to lose middle class families to states with lower costs of living. These trends show no signs of stopping anytime soon.

For the full interactive version and data for the other 49 states, visit The Upshot.