Staff Columnist

Iowans are going, not coming

Traffic moves through the S-curve on I-380 as seen in an aerial photograph in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Traffic moves through the S-curve on I-380 as seen in an aerial photograph in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

This past year, an unsustainable trend continued. Two studies by moving companies show more people are leaving Iowa than are moving into the state.

United Van Lines data shows Iowa ranks eighth of the 50 states for having the most moves away, with more than 55 percent of those making a move headed out of state. Iowa doesn’t make Atlas Van Lines’ top 10, but the state also shows more out-migration based on that company’s data. The second study shows 51 percent of all moves are to other locations.

Who is leaving and why? Retirees are leaving, according to United, as well as job seekers. In contrast, those coming into the state were moving to be closer to family, or because of lifestyle choices. Those leaving generally are 44 or younger, while those coming into the state were above that mark. While those earning annual incomes below $150,000 came in, those earning above that mark were more apt to leave. One of the largest migration disparities based on income was among people making below $50,000 each year, who were more likely to enter the state than to leave.

Atlas’ data doesn’t provide this level of detail, but does provide historical data. A decade ago, Iowans were coming and going evenly — 562 came in and out in both 2010 and 2011. The swing to out-migration began in 2013, grew through 2017, and slowed in 2018. This corresponded with an overall national trend of fewer moves during 2018.

Iowa also is not alone in historic outbound trends, as most Upper Midwest states have seen more movers recently, including Wisconsin and the Dakotas. What appears to have changed this past year is a stabilization in Wisconsin, Nebraska and North Dakota. Inbound migration in South Dakota was the norm in 2018, with more than 57 percent of cross-state movers coming in.

But in Kansas, Illinois and Iowa, out-migration continues. In United’s top 10 “moving out” states, Illinois ranked second and Kansas was fifth. Completing the top 10 were New Jersey, which earned the unfavorable top spot, and other Northeastern and Midwestern states. States with the most inbound moves generally were in the western and southern portions of the country, although the top “moving in” state was Vermont.

Reports from the Census Bureau released in the final weeks of 2018 show overall state population barely grew; Iowa added about 12,000 residents. Federal officials call this a “natural increase,” or the number of births outpacing the number of deaths in the state. About 10,000 people were added to the state in this “natural” way, accounting for roughly 80 percent of the state’s growth. Iowa’s population has been at roughly 3 million people since 1970.

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This likely is enough for Iowa to maintain its current four seats in the U.S. House, at least for the upcoming redistricting process. Beyond that … well, it’s really going to depend on whether or not Iowa returns to its roots of being a welcoming state.

As the Wall Street Journal reported last summer, Iowa isn’t suffering from a “skills gap” that requires the ongoing redistribution of public education dollars and some alternative vision for higher education. Iowa is suffering from an unaddressed people gap.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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