It’s instructive to observe where Americans are moving, and where they are leaving. Such comparisons are particularly revealing when made during, or immediately following, a crisis, such as the recent Covid-19 pandemic. States dealt with that crisis quite differently. Movement statistics from recent years help to establish which of the 50 “laboratories of democracy” responded best to the pandemic.
The Census Bureau publishes annual data on each state’s net domestic migration—that is, how many U.S. residents have moved to a given state, minus the number who moved from that state to elsewhere in the U.S. The second quarter of 2020 (from April 1 to June 30 of that year) was the first quarter to take place entirely after Covid-19 was known to have hit our shores; the most recent statistics available are from July 1, 2023. Looking at net domestic migration over that 13-quarter span yields some interesting results—and some clear winners and losers.
Among large states (those with a population above the 50-state average), the net-domestic-migration winner over the 13-quarter period after Covid-19’s arrival was Florida. The Sunshine State added a net tally of 819,000 Americans over that span. To put that into perspective, in just three years and change, Florida added more people from net domestic migration than the combined populations of Miami and Orlando. The large-state runner-up: Texas. It added 80 percent as many people as Florida (656,000).
The state that lost the most was California, which shed 1.2 million people through net domestic outmigration—the rough equivalent of San Francisco and Oakland’s combined populations. The runner-up loser was New York, which lost about three-quarters as many people as California.
These trends have kept up over the most recent 12 months of this three-year-plus stretch (from mid-2022 to mid-2023, the most recent statistics available). In that period, Florida remains first, Texas second, New York 49th, and California 50th. Apparently, the once-popular song “California, Here I Come” has given way to “Movin’ Out.”
Among small states over the three-plus years in question, South Carolina (248,000 people) led in net domestic migration, followed by Idaho (up 104,000). The biggest small-state loser in that span was Louisiana (down 111,000), followed closely by Maryland (down 100,000).
States’ pandemic policies doubtless played a role in these results. The two large states and two small states that fared best in these comparisons were among those with the least onerous Covid-19 mandates. The two large states and two small states that fared worst were among the states that imposed the most onerous pandemic mandates, with California and New York leading the way in that dubious category.
Consider, too, the proportion of their populations that each of the 50 states gained or lost from net domestic migration. Among large states, the big winner, again, was Florida, whose population between April 1, 2020, and July 1, 2023, boomed by 3.8 percent of its April 2020 total, due to net domestic migration. Second-place Arizona’s, third-place Tennessee’s, and fourth-place North Carolina’s populations in that span each gained 3 percent from net domestic migration versus their April 2020 populations (with their tie being broken at the second decimal point). Texas’s proportional increase (up by 2.3 percent of its April 2020 population) ranked fifth.
Proportionately, New York lost the most from net domestic migration between April 2020 and July 2023 of any large state, shedding 4.4 percent of its April 2020 total. California lost the second-highest share (down 3 percent), and Illinois fared the third-worst, losing 2.8 percent of its 2020 population.
Among small states, Idaho saw the most net domestic migration as a percentage of its 2020 population (up 5.7 percent), followed by South Carolina (up 4.8 percent—and up 1.6 percent in the most recent 12 months alone, the highest of any state) and Montana (up 4.5 percent). The biggest losers among small states: Hawaii (down 2.9 percent), Louisiana (down 2.4 percent), and Alaska (down 2.4 percent). The District of Columbia, down 4.1 percent, fared worse than any of the 50 states.
These results provide further evidence of the unpopularity of authoritarian Covid-19 mandates. Of the three large and three small states that had the most net domestic migration as a percentage of their populations, Florida, Arizona, Tennessee, and Idaho were among the ten states that never imposed mask mandates. South Carolina and Montana had among the shortest-lived mandates—less than half as long as California’s.
Among the losers, Hawaii had the nation’s longest mask mandate (704 days) and required high school athletes to get the experimental Covid-19 vaccines or quit playing. California was the first state to lock down—and it, New York, and Illinois were among the eight states with the longest mask mandates, and also among the relatively small number of states that imposed vaccine mandates. Louisiana was among the roughly one-third of states that required people to mask up for more than 365 days; it also let its school mask mandate stretch into 2022, and initially announced that children who didn’t receive a Covid-19 vaccine would be barred from attending school (it later changed course). The remaining state, Alaska, was the only one to have adopted more lenient Covid-19 policies than most states.
Clear political patterns can be identified in these results. Combining all 50 states—large and small—into one group, most of the dozen states that attracted the highest amounts of net domestic migration as a percentage of their population had both a Republican legislature and a Republican governor during the period in question. Most of the dozen states that fared the worst had state governments controlled mostly, and usually entirely, by Democrats.
Not only have Americans disproportionately moved to states with Republican-led governments and away from states with Democrat-led governments, but they’ve also disproportionately moved to those Republican states that imposed the fewest and least severe Covid-19 mandates. In 2020, more than 60 percent of Republican governors—and every Democratic governor—imposed mask mandates. Of the Republican governors who didn’t impose such mandates, half (five of ten) represented one of the dozen states that fared the best in interstate migration. Of the Republican governors who did impose such mandates, only two of the 16 states that they represented (Texas and South Carolina) made the list of prized destinations.
Everyday Americans appear to have a clear preference about the sort of state government they want. Far from flocking to states that have imposed mandates and lockdowns, they have freely chosen to move to states that focus on securing the blessings of liberty.