People Migrate for Simple Reasons

The reasons Americans move have everything to do with quality of life, and almost nothing to do with the stuff politicians and climate scientists talk about.

We melting pot people have always been migratory. In the 1990s, about 15 percent of Americans moved every year. That rose another percent or two by the early 2000s and appears to have dropped off a couple of points in 2023. 

On average, we now stay in our homes about 13 years, then move on in search of better (or different) lodging, although that average varies widely by region and demographic.

Given our daily doomscrolling about floods, tornadoes, and wildfires, you might expect population to drift toward more resilient areas. Not so. Instead of moving to Vermont or upper-state Michigan, where climate predictions say families are least likely to suffer climate calamities, most nomads roll the dice on Texas, Arizona, or Florida. 

But why? Are they attracted by the right-wing politics of these states? Are they running from climate crisis anxieties? Or is it something simpler?

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Florida, for example, saw 214,000 new families arrive between 2019 and the end of 2020. During that time, at least five surveys asked people the top reasons why they moved: 

  1. United Van Lines 2020: retirement (24%), family (21%), lifestyle (20%), work  (18%), and health (9%).
  2. Redfin 2021: better weather (45%), lower cost of living (39%), lower taxes  (34%), outdoor recreation (18%), and no state income tax (14%).
  3. 2020: weather (31%), cost of living (22%), job opportunities (19%),  family (13%), and entertainment (9%).
  4. U.S. News & World Report 2021: weather (44%), affordability (19%), job  opportunities (18%), healthcare (14%), and quality of life (13%).
  5. SmartAsset 2020: retirement (25%), job opportunities (17%), cost of living  (15%), family (15%), and lifestyle (12%).

Note that there was not a single instance where existential climate fear ranked as a serious concern. 

At the same time, not a single mention was made of the state’s extremist legislative moves, the so-called “culture war” salvos. There’s no hint of “woke” sensitivity in these new arrivals; no mention of anti-abortion laws, no concern about transgender bathrooms, no fist pounding about illegal immigration, and no mention of the right for untrained people to carry loaded guns around in public.

In fact, these fabricated issues have rarely been mentioned by these new Florida residents. Florida had 133,333 housing permits issued in 2020. 

As the surveys above show, it’s weather, affordability, and taxes that compel people to move. Even the risk of hurricanes and sea level rise barely shows up on their psychological radar—neither do the culture wars, but their hangover surely will. 

Thousands of newly settled New Yorkers, for example, are boomeranging back to New York, fed up with right-wing politics (and extreme heat).

It’s not hard to see why. Legislation that makes the place less safe for kids, less attractive to good teachers, protects insurers over citizens, and terrorizes immigrants who do the heavy lifting of building labor is destructive and foolhardy.

A great conversion is coming to this country. Millions of units of new housing will be needed to meet demand. But people want to live in places where tolerance and diversity are normal, where good jobs, safe schools, and kind people go hand in hand with balmy weather. 

The real question now is not whether or when the conversion will happen. It’s happening now. The question is whether a few selfish and ambitious people in positions of power will continue to try to derail progress, or realize the folly of resistance, and reap the benefits of prosperity with the rest of us.