Welcome to New Jersey: Virginia Out-Migration Edition

A few weeks ago I cited United Van Line data suggesting that more people continued in 2017 to move out of Virginia than moved in. Now Hamilton Lombard at the University of Virginia’s Demographic Research Group has confirmed the trend using Internal Revenue Service data.

Total population continued to grow last year thanks to natural population increase, but the overall rate slowed due to continued out-migration, Lombard reported in the StatChat blog. The sustained emigration trend represents a marked departure from previous decades.

Wrote Lombard:

Though Virginia added over 50,000 new residents in the past year, growth is noticeably slower than ten years ago when Virginia’s population was increasing by closer to 100,000 annually. Over the past five years, Virginia’s population grew by 3.2 percent, which is slightly less than overall growth of the U.S. population at 3.5 percent.

The deceleration in population growth is particularly noticeable in Fairfax County, home to one in seven Virginians.

A disproportionate share of young Virginians, particularly those who have graduated college, move to Fairfax for their first jobs. After they have become more established in their careers and often after starting a family, many Fairfax County residents begin moving out farther into Northern Virginia’s suburbs, while a large number move out of Northern Virginia altogether. As a result of out-migration (since 2010), Fairfax County has lost 18,000 residents, but it has also gained 82,000 residents as there were more births than deaths.

Migration data shows that most Virginia counties grew during the 2000s in part from Fairfax County and other Northern Virginia residents relocating to them. However, during the last recession, out-migration from Fairfax County to other Virginia counties slowed and even as the economy has recovered, this remains the case as more Fairfax County residents are moving out of state rather than to other Virginia counties.

It might be tempting to blame outmigration and slower population growth on Northern Virginia’s travails arising from cuts in military spending and other budgetary issues emanating from the nation’s capital. But the slowdown is is a near-universal phenomenon, as can be seen in this map:


Whatever is causing the outmigration, it appears to be affecting all of Virginia. And that suggests a cause bigger than the federal government. What might that be? State and local taxes? Regulation?

We can hope that the Amazon will reverse the outmigration trend. While Amazon’s HQ2 project undoubtedly will make a difference in Northern Virginia, it won’t do much for the Rest of Virginia. Virginia has transformed from a Red state politically to a Purple state, and it’s fast becoming a Blue state — the latest round of redistricting will see to that by shifting the gerrymandering advantage from Republicans to Democrats. As I have observed in the context of taxes, entitlements and environmental regulation, Virginia is becoming New Jersey.

Lombard optimistically predicts that “Virginia population growth will likely increase as out-migration lessens” in the next decade. My gut tells me differently. As Virginia turners bluer and bluer, the trickle of outmigration will turn into a stream. It will take a while before people flee the state in the same numbers as they are from New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and the like, but we’ll get there eventually.

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26 responses to “Welcome to New Jersey: Virginia Out-Migration Edition

  1. What ever happened to a prediction made by demographers a few years back that the population of the Richmond region would see a 450,000 increase by 2035? The newcomers were expected to be those seeking refuge from the high tax states in the northeast.

  2. “What might that be? State and local taxes? Regulation?”
    Well I think it could be. As your article points out, NoVA/Fairfax is the place where people start out. Certainly as some of us perceive, the Va. state tax policy is to hit NoVA hard. So whether you come to Fairfax from NJ, or RoVA (rest of Virginia) you are not lured to stay in Fairfax due to low taxes. Rather we have pain in the butt taxes like car tax really hits hard if you are upwardly mobile buy a typical $40k car in NoVA. So you could move back to rural Va., or wherever you came from or elsewhere, perhaps happily. But we tax you for leaving Ffx too! Smartest thing we did I guess.

  3. Fairfax County continues to raise taxes faster than average income increases. Traffic gets worse and worse. The County realizes it cannot depend on federal spending to increase incomes and sales the way it used to do. It’s looked at the services and functions it performs (lines of business review) but hasn’t proposed to stop doing everything that it does. It has underinvested in infrastructure, allowing pension costs to get out of control. It took some steps towards pension reform but still owes billions.

    Democrats or Republicans? I don’t see anyone making the big, hard and painful changes needed to reinvent Fairfax County. Absent grandkids, why should retirees stay?

  4. Jim, you conclude, “As Virginia turns bluer and bluer, the trickle of outmigration will turn into a stream. It will take a while before people flee the state in the same numbers as they are from New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and the like, but we’ll get there eventually.” Now, wait a minute. What do the numbers for NJ and CT actually say? There is nothing comparable there to Virginia’s uber-taxation of Nova to support RoVa. Moreover, in the case of those upwardly mobile urbanites who are leaving Fairfax for greener pastures outside the State, aren’t a healthy chunk of them headed for New York City and those very NJ and CT suburbs or other parts of the Northeast Corridor? And aren’t the rest headed for places like San Francisco and Seattle where tech reigns and the cost of living is at least as high as Nova? It sounds to me like you’re really hoping to blame it on the blue hue up here, not the economics.

    • If one’s income regularly exceeds the increases in taxes and cost of living, it makes economic sense to stay in Fairfax County if one lives there. And there are some very good things about the D.C. Metro area. But the quality of life is much lower today than 20 years ago. And traffic and overused public facilities are a big and growing part of the cause.

      Despite all the promises for Tysons, it’s growth is not allowing the County to spend more while taxing less. Schools are overcrowded. The Schools told McLean area residents that it would account for growth in Tysons without overcrowding. But McLean High School, built for about 2000 students has more than 2500. Public fields and school gyms are over-subscribed in Vienna and McLean. Cut-through traffic prevents residents from leaving their homes (or getting to their homes) many evenings.

      And we continue to subsidize low taxes in RoVA.

    • Silicon Valley is the high-techiest of all high-tech communities, but look how many people are leaving California.

      Also, I’m not saying that with Virginia’s current business climate that the outmigration will become an exodus. Once Dems control the General Assembly and the executive branch, give it a couple of decades. Even N.J. didn’t become N.J. overnight.

    • Agree with TMT about the lag in infrastructure and traffic woes. But as a retiree, I don’t worry about the schools except insofar as that might drive family away. As a retiree, I live inside the Beltway and time my excursions for those rare but predictable times when traffic is not so bad. As a retiree housing is pretty well a sunk cost, other than taxes, and I’ll pay those for the privilege of maintaining contact with family and a familiar community (including medical community — the difficulty of replicating that elsewhere can be substantial). So you are right, it makes sense to stay in Fairfax, for now. But the decline in the quality of life for future generations is worrisome, and could drive my family away, too. What then? Que sera.

      As for New Jersey — it always has been the “light at the end of the tunnel” — the Lincoln Tunnel that is.

    • Right I mean the blue Virginians agree with higher taxes so they are maybe staying.

  5. Hooterville is sinking the state. Who can forget the Virginia Boss Hogg refrain, “T’aint payin’ ‘fer no NoVer roads”?

    Here’s a comment from a few days ago on this blog …

    “The problem with transferring the 600 series road to counties now, as it was before 1932, is that many rural counties do not have the economic base to handle that responsibility. Even if they were given the authority to tax fuel, there is not enough traffic in those counties to generate the amount of revenue that would be needed.”

    Sounds like NoVa is payin’ fer RoVa roads.

    So the Hee Haw Republicans from rural Virginia are actually siphoning great mounds of money from NoVa and, to a lesser extent, Richmond and Tidewater to provide welfare to the proud and self-reliant citizens they represent. Including road money.

    Does the RPV hold secret meetings where they pray to statuettes of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren? If not, they should.

    Why are people leaving NoVa? C’mon. What was it that Margaret Thatcher said? Eventually you run out of other people’s money. Sounds like the Virginia Republican run welfare state has gotten there.

    • “So the Hee Haw Republicans from rural Virginia are actually siphoning great mounds of money from NoVa and, to a lesser extent, Richmond and Tidewater to provide welfare to the proud and self-reliant citizens they represent. Including road money.” Hah! Yes indeed, just as the Byrd Machine intended. And only Arlington and Henrico figured out they’d be better off by themselves — perhaps in the 1930s they were the only two besides the Cities that came out ahead on their own.

      As for the Great Exodus, my point was, they are leaving for urban centers where the tax burden is no lighter. Except, of course, businesses, hence jobs, are moving to those other godforsaken but cheaper places in the sticks, like — well, like Austin, TX, or Charlotte, NC, or Nashville, TN.

      Maybe there’s a correlation between the prospects for a local economy and the strength of its country music scene today. I guess on that scale my kids should move to Galax.

  6. It’s hard to misinterpret the maps here. While the “red” hot growth areas have slowed down – they are STILL growing – the yellow is still 0-10%.

    So , NONE of those areas are out-migration.

    The out_migration is from the rural parts of Virginia and people are leaving because there are no jobs – despite the fact that those counties are low taxes and run by Conservatives and represented in Richmond by the GOP.

    Obviously State taxes and regulation are uniform across the state if we follow the “we’re gonna be New Jersey” logic – one would think NoVa would suffer outmigration and folks who want lower local taxes and less traffic would gravitate to RoVa.

    How many folks want to leave NoVa and move to RoVa? I hear crickets.

  7. Fairfax County has had negative net domestic migration for quite a few years. I believe that many people whose earnings are increasing faster than the increases in cost of living, including taxes, are not moving. People who have a good job or family close by are staying. But a lot of people who don’t need to show up in a office regularly or who are retiring are moving. We have two lawyers in our small firm who used to live locally but have relocated to the Midwest for various reasons. Their ability to serve clients has not changed. Just one small example.

    Lots of people from other nations are moving to Fairfax County. Many are well-educated and highly skilled but more of them are not. The County has a lot more poor people today than it used to have.

  8. here’s an interesting chart:

    Fairfax County, Virginia Population 2019
    Fairfax County, Virginia’s estimated population is 1,148,433 with a growth rate of 0.33% in the past year according to the most recent United States census data. Fairfax County, Virginia is the largest county in Virginia.

    Year Population Growth Growth Rate
    2017 1,148,433 3,797 0.33%
    2016 1,144,636 2,439 0.21%
    2015 1,142,197 2,905 0.25%
    2014 1,139,292 3,832 0.34%
    2013 1,135,460 13,626 1.21%
    2012 1,121,834 16,114 1.46%
    2011 1,105,720 18,986 1.75%
    2010 1,086,734 268,150 32.76%
    1990 818,584 221,683 37.14%
    1980 596,901 141,880 31.18%
    1970 455,021 180,019 65.46%
    1960 275,002 176,445 179.03%

  9. Here’s one for Northern Virginia by locality – totals about 2 million population;

  10. Larry’s charts are pregnant with data, past, present, future.

    For example, compare the “low growth” population of Arlington and Alexandria with the high growth population of Fairfax from as many pertinent social, economic, financial, and educational statistics as one can dream up. Who’s been the great winner, and loser, over the past 5 decades? Why? And how?

    And who between Arlington and Alexandria, on one side, and Fairfax, on the other, now likely will be the big winner, and loser in the next five decades? Why? And How?

    And how can we alter that future for all concerned?

    Consider thus the impact of good versus bad land use planning, transportation planning, and bad government (crony capitalism).

    One could built a wonderful graduate school course, even program, around these lessons, spun out in all kinds of interesting ways and angles. Given all the talents around Virginia today, I suspect at least some few are hard at work on these sorts of big data issues to unravel secrets, pertinent to all kinds of disciplines, including law, governance, city and place building, and humanities generally.

  11. One of the interesting things is that the charts show that the growth rate is close to flat – but people say that traffic congestion is worse… is there MORE traffic even though population growth is low?

    Is there job growth in the NoVa region that is tied to more car use?

    Are people moving to Nova for jobs and retired people in NoVa leaving such that for every new worker added, one retired guy leaves and that is why the population growth rate looks flat?

    Is there a lot of migration in and out?

    • This chart actually shows why traffic is getting worse. It shows the over-the-year net change in jobs over the years. For each increment except two, there was a net INCREASE in employment over the previous period. If the overall growth rate had been flat, the bars would have been near zero.

  12. Turning from the discussion on what the maps show about Northern Virginia, the alarming aspect to me is where all the blue is on the maps. At least some of the counties in Southwest and Southside showed some growth in the 2000-2008 period, but since 2010, all the western, southwestern, Southside, Northern Neck, and Middle Peninsula counties declined in population. If Northern Virginia wants to reduce or eliminate its subsidization of those areas, some action needs to be taken. Increased broadband access and better education comes to mind. As I was growing up in Southside, one of the sayings was that the three R’s stood for “Reading, ‘Riting, and the Road to Richmond.”

    Speaking of Richmond, having worked in the city for more than 40 years and watching it decline while the counties of Henrico and Chesterfield grew and prospered, the recent population growth, reflected on the map, is amazing and heartening.

    By the way, I have another example of not all millennials leaving Northern Virginia for lower tax areas. In my extended family, there were four children growing up in Fairfax. As they have graduated from college, they have left the area. One lives across the river in suburban Maryland, one is in Boston, one is in Los Angeles, and one is in Mexico City. Not any low tax areas in the bunch. although I am not sure about Mexico City. The interesting part of the story is that the generation before them, their parents and aunts and uncles, migrated to Fairfax from other parts of the country. So, perhaps, one part of the explanation of the decreasing growth of Fairfax is the old story of kids wanting to go somewhere new from where they grew up.

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