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Americans Are Moving to Less-Crowded States — And to Be With Their Families

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The coronavirus pandemic accelerated remote work, allowing more Americans to consider relocating. Among those who chose new stomping grounds, where did they flock — and why?

A recent study from United Van Lines — a nationwide moving services company based in St. Louis — found that in 2021 people more often moved to lower-density states. The 45th version of this annual study also found in an accompanying survey that many Americans moved to be closer to their families.

Vermont top state for inbound moves

Among the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia, Vermont had the highest inbound migration rate at 74%, according to United Van Lines. This means that of the total household moves that United Van Lines and Mayflower Transit — two UniGroup companies — handled in Vermont in 2021, 74% involved people heading to the state. By extension, the states with the highest inbound rates would have the lowest outbound rates.

Here’s a look at the top 10 by the percentage of moves that were inbound in 2021:

  • 1: Vermont (74%)
  • 2: South Dakota (69%)
  • 3: South Carolina (63%)
  • 4: West Virginia (63%)
  • 5: Florida (62%)
  • 6: Alabama (62%)
  • 7: Tennessee (62%)
  • 8: Oregon (61%)
  • 9: Idaho (60%)
  • 10: Rhode Island (59%)

Six of these states — Vermont, South Dakota, West Virginia, Alabama, Oregon and Idaho — are among the 20 least densely populated, each with fewer than 100 people per square mile. Notably, Tennessee and South Carolina are just outside the top 20.

If you’re thinking about moving out of state, make sure to research the cost of living in your potential new state. (Don’t forget to look into moving costs, too.) If you’re looking to buy, seek mortgage preapproval to get a snapshot of what you may be able to afford. A mortgage calculator could also help.

New Jersey top state for outbound moves

On the flip side, New Jersey had the highest outbound migration rate at 71%. In fact, the Garden State has held the top outbound spot four years in a row.

Here’s a look at the top 10 by the percentage of moves that were outbound in 2021:

  • 1: New Jersey (71%)
  • 2: Illinois (67%)
  • 3: New York (63%)
  • 4: Connecticut (60%)
  • 5: California (59%)
  • 6: Michigan (58%)
  • 7: Massachusetts (58%)
  • 8: Louisiana (57%)
  • 9: Ohio (56%)
  • 10: Nebraska (56%)

Nine of these 10 are considered densely populated, showing that Americans are heading to less-crowded areas.

Why Americans are moving

In addition to its study, United Van Lines revealed survey data to try to explain the interstate moves. According to the findings, nearly a third (32%) of Americans who moved in 2021 did so to be closer to family.

At the state level, nearly half (48%) of the people who moved to Michigan cited this, followed by 47% in New Jersey and Kansas.

While a slightly higher percentage of Americans — 33% — moved for a new job or transfer, it was a dramatic decrease from 2015, when more than 60% of Americans uprooted because of work. More people moved to the District of Columbia (64%) for work in 2021 than any other state, followed by Louisiana (50%) and California (38%).

Retirees flocked to — where else — Florida

The United Van Lines survey also tracked the top states in which movers were headed for retirement. The top state — you guessed it — was Florida, with 39% of United Van Lines and Mayflower Transit customers moving there to retire.

Here’s a look at the top 10 in this category:

  • 1: Florida (39%)
  • 2: South Carolina (37%)
  • 3: Arizona (36%)
  • 4: Delaware (34%)
  • 5: Idaho (29%)
  • 6: Nevada (29%)
  • 7: Wyoming (28%)
  • 8: Mississippi (28%)
  • 9: New Mexico (27%)
  • 10: Maine (27%)

A greater number of younger people are retiring amid the pandemic, according to United Van Lines. And while they’re also moving to Florida, the study found they’re skipping crowded cities like Orlando and Miami and trekking to less-dense metros like Punta Gorda, Sarasota and Fort Myers-Cape Coral.

Methodology: 2021 household moves handled by two UniGroup brands — United Van Lines and Mayflower Transit — were tracked within the 48 contiguous U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For example, the two companies handled 413 shipments in 2021 in Vermont. Of the 413, 307 — 74% — were inbound and 106 — 26% — were outbound. That means that of the companies’ shipments in Vermont, 74% involved people moving to the state.

UniGroup then sent customers a survey to examine the motivations behind their moves. They received more than 21,000 responses in 2021.