Q: I noticed recently that Tennessee is now the number one location that Americans from other states are moving to. Texas used to top this list. Has the Lone Star State lost its luster?
Julie Jones, Great Bend, Kansas
A: It’s funny that you’ve raised this question, Ms. Jones, because the Texanist, too, recently came across that very same eyebrow-raising factlet while perusing U-Haul’s annual white paper on domestic migration patterns and was wondering what in tarnation might be going on. For the uninformed: every year U-Haul, the country’s largest DIY moving company, releases a report on the comings and goings of its one-way state-to-state customers. It’s a fairly anecdotal way to look at migratory trends across the country but is as good a way as any, the Texanist supposes, to determine how a particular state is faring in our nation’s fifty-contestant popularity contest.
As you essentially noted, Texas has historically done pretty well in this regard. In 2016, 2017, and 2018, Texas was the top destination for Americans looking to transplant themselves to a new state via U-Haul. In 2019 Texas came in second to Florida and last year Texas once again took the runner-up spot, this time behind Tennessee. Given that Tennessee had placed twelfth the year before and had never come close to a first-place finish, this was something of a shock, even to those who had already acclimated ourselves to Texas’s less than stellar 2019 showing.
Still, the Texanist is a cautious sort, not the kind of person to immediately start entertaining dark thoughts about his home state losing its luster based solely on the say-so of semi-anecdotal evidence ginned up by an Arizona-based van rental company. What the Texanist needed, before even considering the idea of leaping to any such conclusions, was more authoritative numbers, like maybe numbers with a governmental imprimatur. Especially if those numbers happened to reaffirm the Texanist’s unbendable biases about his home state.
So, the Texanist reached out to Lloyd Potter, the official demographer for the State of Texas. Potter, a judicious but genial sort, confirmed for the Texanist that the annual U-Haul report is “probably not the most definitive source of migration data,” and noted correctly that “not all movers rent from U-Haul.” One suspects that, for instance, Elon Musk and any number of his fellow tech-savvy Californians turned Texans likely paid someone else to do their moving for them.
Potter didn’t yet have any solid data for 2020, but he did direct the Texanist to some eyebrow-raising U.S Census Bureau statistics from the prior year. It turns out that in 2019 Texas had a net migration deficit with Tennessee. That year about 15,000 Texans relocated to the Volunteer State while only 10,000 or so Tennesseans volunteered (rim shot) to move to Texas. Tennessee was, in fact, the second-largest contributor to Texas’s net loss migration in 2019. Colorado, which took in 32,000 Texans and sent only 18,000 Coloradoans our way, was the top dog.
Sure, Texas, as the nation’s second-most-populous state, does have a much larger pool of potential exiters than Tennessee or Colorado do, which the Texanist supposes ought to take some of the sting out of those lopsided figures. But the capacious capacity of our cities, suburbs, and give-me-land-lots-of-land hinterlands means we have a lot more places that can welcome newcomers. So the Texanist actually takes little comfort from such arguments, even though they were arguments of his own making.
The Texanist feels obliged to note here, however, that if we pan out considerably, the picture looks a whole lot less dire for Texas. For better or worse, many more newcomers arrive in Texas every year than Texans depart for other states. In 2019, for instance, Texas took in more than half a million domestic migrants while shedding only about 400,000 residents. That’s a net of 100,000 new Texans! In a single year! For the sake of comparison, the current population of the entire town of Temple, where the Texanist grew up, is about 75,000. That’s a lot of new Texans.
Texas has, in fact, been a net importer of Americans since the early 1990s and always appears high on the lists of fastest growing states. As Potter pointed out, “Texas has been second (behind Florida) for the most net domestic and the most total net migration compared to all other states in recent years. And was first for several years at the beginning of the previous decade”—that is, the 2000s. (Tennessee did nowhere near that well during the same period.) Almost all of this movement to Texas is related to jobs and economic growth, Potter noted, though the Texanist would add—and he’s going out on a limb here but feels pretty confident about this—that juicy smoked brisket surely plays a part too. Overall, Potter didn’t seem too concerned about those U-Haul numbers. “The to-and-from flows just happen to favor Tennessee recently,” he said, while noting that “Tennessee’s economic growth is limited in comparison to Texas’s and that is unlikely to change in the near future.”
Still, the fact that so many more Texans are currently moving to Tennessee than vice versa does, much like the occasional fragment of tortilla chip, stick in the Texanist’s craw. To find out what gives, the Texanist attempted to locate Tennessee’s official state demographer. And though he struck out, as it appears that Tennessee doesn’t have an official state demographer, he was able to locate an acquaintance who is basically Tennessee’s version of the Texanist (though this old boy relocated to Texas many years ago and lacks the Texanist’s professional affiliations and loyal worldwide following).
“What’s attracting all the Texans to Tennessee?” the Texanist asked his friend. The response, which was lengthy, included references to the “abounding natural beauty” of the Mississippi River and the Great Smoky Mountains and the enduring national treasure that is Tennessee-born Dolly Parton. He also claimed that Tennessee has provided the nation with “the great American soundtrack,” which is debatable, and noted that Texas and Tennessee have some shared DNA, which is true, given that many of the Texas’s early heroes, including Sam Houston, Davy Crockett, and the principal author of the Texas Declaration of Independence, George Childress, all hailed from Tennessee. And then there’s our common love of smoked meats, though there are some regional differences between those two regional cuisines, what with Texas leaning more toward beef while Tennessee’s barbecue is generally much more pork-centric. The Texanist had to admit that the amateur Tennesseeist made some solid points.
Yet all things considered, to insinuate, even loosely, that the Lone Star State has lost its luster is just flat-out wrong. Sure, Texas’s reputation did take a bit of a hit recently, what with that February cold snap exposing the soft underbelly of our infrastructure. And yes, not all of our professional sports teams are exactly where we’d like them to be. (The Texanist is looking at you, Dallas Cowboys. And Houston Texans. And Rangers. And Mavericks. And Spurs. And Stars.) And yes, one might be tempted to take the Texanist’s opinion of his home state with a grain of salt given that he is an unabashed homer.
But still, all those caveats aside, and despite what U-Haul or anybody else says, it remains the Texanist’s firm belief that Texas is one heck of a state, an opinion with which the vast majority of his fellow 29 million Texans agree, as do the 500,000 Americans and 200,000-plus foreigners who make the decision each year to call Texas home.
Now, if you’ll excuse the Texanist, he’s going to go sink his teeth into a thick slice of tender and delicious brisket.
Have a question for the Texanist? He’s always available here. Be sure to tell him where you’re from.