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The Lookout

The end of the Sun Belt boom?

Zachary Roth
The Lookout

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Vacant new homes in Gilbert, Ariz. AP Photo/Matt York

For decades, the story of American migration has been steady movement away from places like New York, Massachusetts and California, and toward the Sun Belt--a development that has helped reshape everything from politics to major league baseball. But the economic downturn may be putting an end to that trend, a new analysis suggests.

Between 2007 and 2010, Florida lost more people to internal migration than it gained, for the first time since the 1940s. Nevada, too, which had been growing for decades, had a net migration loss of 30,000 in 2009. And Arizona had a net gain of just 5000, way down from 90,000 five years before.

Meanwhile, New York and California both saw their net losses shrink in 2009 by more than half since 2005.

The analysis, based on Census Bureau and IRS data, was conducted by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire.

What explains the shift? The Sun Belt states, of course, were hit hard by the housing bust that helped trigger the recession and its aftermath. The early aughts housing boom was responsible for much of the growth in places like Clark County, Nev., and Maricopa County, Ariz. in the first place.

But just as important, migration as a whole, which has been on the wane for three decades, has really tailed off since the downturn began. "When times get really hard, it gets really hard for people to up and move," Kenneth Johnson of the Carsey Institute told the New York Times. "People who might have left New York for North Carolina are staying put."

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