ORLANDO, Florida (AP) — The US population center is on track this decade to take a southern turn for the first time in history, and it’s because of people like Owen Glick, who moved from California to Florida over a year ago.
Last year, the South outnumbered other U.S. regions by well over 1 million people through births exceeding deaths and internal and international migration, according to population estimates from the US Census Bureau. The Northeast and Midwest lost residents and the West grew by 153,000 anemic people, primarily because large numbers of residents left for another region of the United States. The West would have lost population were it not for immigrants and births exceeding deaths.
By contrast, the South grew by 1.3 million new residents, and six of the 10 fastest growing US states last year were in the South, led in that order by Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Georgia.
Experts aren’t sure at this point whether the Southern’s dramatic pull is a short-term change spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic or a long-term trend, or even what impact it will have on the reallocation of political power through redistricting after the 2030 census. Due to delays caused by the pandemic, changes were made to how the Census Bureau computed estimates this decade and this may have had an impact as well.
But experts say Southern appeal has to do with a mix of affordable housing, lower taxes, the popularity of remote work during the pandemic era, and the retirement of baby boomers.
Glick, 56, and his then-partner moved to the Orlando area from metro San Diego in December 2021 after he retired from his corporate sales job. They’d made regular trips to central Florida before their move, to check out the rental properties they’d purchased because they were cheaper in the Sunshine State than in Southern California.
While the cost of housing and food is lower than in California, there are hidden costs to home maintenance in Florida, such as having to paint more often due to the relentless sun and higher bills due to air conditioning all year round, he said.
“You’re in better financial shape pricing here, but there are more expenses to maintain the properties,” Glick said.
Glick was among 233,000 people who left a Western state and planted roots in a different region from mid-2021 to mid-2022. He joined the ranks of nearly 868,000 people who moved to a Southern state from a other region.
If trends continue through the remainder of this decade, the average core of the US population will head south from a rural county in Missouri’s Ozarks by 2030, without a westward extension for the first time in history, according to planner Alex Zakrewsky, modeling the population center.
Since the population center was first reckoned at Chestertown, Maryland, in 1790, it has drifted westward continuously, although it began to take a more southwestern lean in the 20th century as air conditioning became widespread. it made the South more livable.
“If this really works, it’s really historic,” said Zakrewsky, a principal planner in Middlesex County, New Jersey.
North Carolina state demographer Michael Cline said growth in the South was “above and beyond” the trends the region experienced before the pandemic, which he said may have accelerated many movers’ decisions to move from cold climate states or allowed people to work remotely for the first time.
Departures from the West began in 2021, during the first full year of the pandemic, when 145,000 residents moved to another region of the United States. Until then, internal migration to the West had increased every year since 2010.
A substantial portion of departures were due to people leaving California, but Alaska, Hawaii, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington also saw annual internal migration losses from 2021 to 2022. Additionally, in several western states that had years – annual increases in internal migration – Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Utah – these increases were lower than the previous year.
In Oregon, the jury is still out on whether the phenomenon of more than 17,000 departures to other US states was a temporary pandemic-related trend due to remote working freedoms and housing affordability, or whether it is of a long-term movement due to quality of life issues such as crime, weather or fires, said Josh Lehner, state economist.
Oregon, which gained a seat in Congress in 2021 from the previous decade’s boom, hasn’t experienced a decline in population since the 1980s, when the lumber industry downsized and the housing market collapsed.
“If we’re not seeing that workforce growth like we normally do, that means economic activity will be slower, government revenues will be lower. It’s an issue we’re struggling with,” Lehner said.
Lehner added that he wanted to see more data from 2023 “before it freaks out.”
William Frey, a demographer at think tank Brookings Metro, also wants to see if the trend is related only to the pandemic or has legs for the rest of the decade. A big wild card is immigration, which was responsible for most of the growth in 2022, he said.
“Some of that has to do with moving away from the big, dense coastal subways to somewhere else,” Frey said. “One thing that needs to be questioned is whether the patterns of the past two years will continue for the rest of the decade.”