By James Bickerton
Americans are on the move, and increasingly they're choosing red states to build their lives. That was one of the key findings of U.S. Census Bureau data released in December, which showed rapid population growth in some of the most prominent Republican states in the union, while several of their Democratic counterparts have seen their populations fall.
The main reasons given for the movement, people told Newsweek, were politics, the cost of living, taxation—and crime.
Sam Karnick, a senior fellow at The Heartland Institute, a conservative leaning think tank, cited law and order as the key factor behind blue-to-red state moves.
Discussing the demographic changes with Newsweek, he said: "Populations in Democrat-controlled states are falling because of an exodus from big cities. The reverse is happening in Republican-controlled states.
"Although taxes are an important factor, there was not nearly as much blue-to-red state movement before 2020. The deciding element appears to be the rapid rise of violent crime in Democrat-controlled cities across the nation.
"The 2021 National Crime Victimization Survey shows that the rate of violent crime has been rising in urban areas, though not in suburbs or rural areas. This tracks with the population movement from Democrat-controlled states to Republican ones. The two are coincident, and there are clear indications of a causal relationship."
In the year to July 2022, Florida was the fastest growing U.S. state, for the first time since 1957, seeing a population increase of 1.9 percent. The population of Texas rose by 1.6 percent over this period, while the traditionally Republican states of South Carolina, Arizona and Idaho recorded increases of 1.7 percent, 1.3 percent and 1.8 percent respectively.
Correspondingly many of America's most iconic Democratic states actually saw their population decline, despite a national rise of 0.4 percent over the period. California shrunk by 0.3 percent, New York by 0.9 percent, Illinois by 0.8 percent and Oregon by 0.4 percent. Within California the difference was even more pronounced, with the ultra-progressive San Francisco and Lassen counties seeing their populations fall by 7.1 percent and 7.5 percent respectively between April 2020 and July 2022.
Law and Order
A Gallup poll, published in October 2022, found 56 percent of Americans think crime has increased in their areas, with 78 percent believing it has risen nationwide.
Law and order was one of the main reasons Florida resident Terry Gilliam fled from the West Coast after 35 years. The 64-year-old now runs the "Leaving California" and "Life After California" Facebook groups, which have a combined membership of over 278,000.
Describing his life in California, Gilliam told Newsweek: "In addition to a continuous increase in the cost of everything, crime and homelessness grew with each passing year —with no viable solution to stop it; just a lot more money thrown into the air to consultants.
"California is a failed state. It abandoned Judeo Christian values (that have made this the best country in the history of the world) many years ago."
A number of the "Leaving California" Facebook group members who agreed to speak to Newsweek about their experiences shared similar views.
Asked why she decided to leave, Alycia Rodgers told Newsweek: "Moving from Riverside to Sarasota [Florida] next week. I don't even recognize this place anymore.
"One recent example: A few weeks ago, a woman obviously in a state of drug induced psychosis spent hours in the park directly behind my house acting completely insane, screaming obscenities at the top of her lungs, throwing stuff, kicking stuff, dancing around, rolling around, and even taking off her clothes.
"This state has lost its way. I'm surrounded by crime and homelessness and the state cares about stupid stuff like shopping bags, straws, composting, gas stoves, equitable electric bills."
Laura Tinoco added: "Homeless (just saw a man's buns and b****) at my local restaurant, last year a man was out in our backyard, rearranging our furniture to suit himself."
Kathleen Oliver told Newsweek she was born in Los Angeles but is leaving "over the politics, taxation, traffic, cost of living, crime and overpopulation."
In 2020 the U.S. recorded more than 21,000 homicides, the highest figure since 1995, according to FBI figures. This was a dramatic increase on 2019, which saw 16,669 murders reported, with California one of the worst performing states with a 30 percent increase.
Overall the year saw violent crime increase for the first time in four years, though there was a 7.4 percent reduction in burglaries, possibly due to more people being at home due to coronavirus lockdowns.
New York reported a 97 percent increase in shooting incidents during 2020, with the number of murders rising from 319 in 2019 to 462, though overall the number of crimes recorded fell.
Crime in Florida fell 14.1 percent in 2020, compared to the 2019 figure, according to data from the state's Annual Uniform Crime Report. However, violent crime did increase slightly over this period, by 2.3 percent.
Data from the Texas Department of Public Safety shows crime in the state fell by four percent in 2020, though the number of aggregated assaults increased by 16.4 percent.
Coronavirus and Taxation
Marie Bailey, a Texas-based real estate agent who specializes in relocating people from California to the Lone Star State, is one of the undoubted winners of America's internal migration. She moved from California, where she had worked in marketing, to Dallas-Fort Worth six years ago. Bailey said the move generated so much interest with friends and family in her home state that she became a realtor, specializing in helping others make the same transition.
Speaking to Newsweek, Bailey, who drives a "sparkle pink" Tesla, complete with "MOVE2TX" license plates, said politics and the cost of living are the main factors, with many heading to the Lone Star State to escape "liberal policies".
Asked whether her clients are moving explicitly because of politics, Bailey, who also runs the 44,000 strong "Moving to Texas from California" Facebook group, replied: "This is what I hear all day, every day from all of our social media followers, everyone we talk to."
She described taxes and Covid policy as a "really big deal" for many of those moving, adding: "I had a lot of clients who's kids were kept out of school for over a year, their businesses were all but destroyed.
"When Covid hit, people in blue states were finding their kids were being kept out of school for a really long time... I had somebody call me in extreme distress who's a nurse. She works all day long, it's Covid, she's very busy, she has four kids at home and she stayed up all night to take her kids through the online school programme. She didn't know what to do because she couldn't afford for someone to come in and watch her four kids in the day. It was awful."
On taxation, Bailey said "California will fine you so many different ways," pointing to higher vehicle registration fees and income tax.
This perspective was shared by Jessica Anderson, executive director of Heritage Action, a conservative group linked to the Heritage Foundation think tank.
She said: "Voters coast to coast are flocking to Republican-run states as a direct rebuke to left-wing policies dominating their lives. Americans want a business-friendly atmosphere with better tax structures and lower costs of living, more parental choice, fewer regulations and restrictions.
"Red state governors in particular are proven leaders who kept their state open in the face of Covid lockdowns."
Covid policy was also a bit issue for people moving to Florida, according to Tiffanie Vendryes, a real estate agent who works for Grace Realty Group in the state's south.
Addressing Newsweek, she said: "For the last decade there's been a notable amount of people moving to Florida from the Northeast. However, during and directly following COVID the amount of people moving here increased dramatically. So much so that it had a significant impact on the value of both rental units and properties for sale. I heard many stories of people's rent increasing by $100s, even one story with a lease renewal increasing by $700 to $800 per month.
"As a result of the pandemic many were able to keep their northern salary while moving to a more affordable state. During the pandemic there was so much demand. An open house would attract dozens of buyers in a single day."
While many of those leaving cited politics, or associated subjects such as law and order, several academics told Newsweek this isn't showing up strongly in the data, and instead pointed to longer-term trends.
Professor Peter Rogerson, an expert in demographics at the University at Buffalo, said: "The leading reasons for interstate moves have to do with jobs, family reasons (which include marriage, divorce, being closer to relatives), cost of living, warmer climate, bigger or smaller housing. So, crime does not usually come up in these lists of reasons for changing state of residence, but cost of living (which includes taxation) is on the list above."
Rogerson added many of the "migration trends" we are currently seeing have been ongoing for a while, such as "migration out of California" which "has been in part due to high housing costs." Conversely, he linked population rises in parts of the Southeast to "the aging of the baby boom and increased retirement migration," with retirees seeking out "warmer climates."
Professor Chris Cooper, who heads Western Carolina University's Public Policy Institute, also downplayed the role of politics, telling Newsweek: "I don't see much evidence that people are choosing the package of policies that appeal to them most, rather they are choosing the climate and location that appeal to them. Politics are secondary."
William H. Frey, a demographics expert at the Brookings Institution think tank, agreed when Newsweek asked about the population movement to prominent Republican states.
He stated: "I don't think the politics has much to do with it, to tell you the truth. If you look back five, 10, 15 years you see Florida, Texas and a lot of the southern and some of the western states being the fastest growing states during both Democratic and Republican administrations. I think it has much more to do with people finding jobs, with the housing costs.
"When you pick up to move, it's a big deal. You have to readjust your family connections, usually there's two or more workers, and you have to figure out where they're going to find jobs, there's schools, you have to adjust to a new place. I don't think people move on a whim of politics—I think people move because of more fundamental reasons."
Published April 20, 2023