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Sign of stronger economy: Utah immigration increases

Published December 10, 2012 7:03 pm

Census • State's in-migration on increase since 2009, pointing at better economic conditions.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It's a sign that Utah has a "moving" economy — literally. Far greater numbers of Americans are moving into Utah than out of it, compared to recent years, likely drawn to better economic opportunities here than in other states.

About 12,000 more people moved into Utah than out of it from domestic locations in 2011, according to Census Bureau estimates released Monday from the American Community Survey.

That was nearly a six-fold increase from the estimated 2,200 net domestic in-migration in 2010, and 50 percent more than 8,000 in 2009.

But it is still well below the 30,000 to 40,000 annual net in-migration Utah saw when the economy was booming before the recession hit.

"It's a sign that we are back on track," said Pam Perlich, a senior research economist at the University of Utah. "It is a positive indicator of good labor market conditions, and good educational and economic opportunities in our state."

Some places are being abandoned by workers who see little reason to stay where they are, she said.

"We're not a place like Michigan where people are leaving because they have given up hope. Here, we're recognized as having one of the more robust job growth rates among all states. And the future looks pretty rosy."

David Stringfellow, a senior economist in the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget, said Utah is expected to continue greater job growth than the rest of the nation in coming years, and greater-than-average net in-migration because of it.

He said a consensus of economists in the state is that, assuming that Congress avoids the fiscal cliff, the "moderate expansion that we have been experiencing in the last few years will continue to get stronger as time goes on both in Utah and the United States." He added that Utah's job growth will probably be "about 1.5 percentage points faster than the rest of the country, as is common for Utah in an expansion."

He added, "We expect those migration numbers to stay strong as our labor market remains stronger relative to the nation," and expects they would be in the mid-10,000s range annually for the next several years.

Perlich said much of the job growth here has been driven by "some of the big infrastructure projects that we have been building like the I-15 rebuild in Utah County, the FrontRunner" commuter train and new buildings at universities, all mostly built with local money. "We've had kind of our own home-grown stimulus."

Perlich said the higher immigration is "not the sort of rip-roaring speculative growth that we saw in the run-up to the financial crash. But I think in some ways that's a relief because we've got a sustainable level of growth. We don't have a level of growth that's being driven by speculative development. It's real jobs being created at a sustainable pace."

The last time Utah had more people move out than in was in the 1980s, Perlich said, adding that Utah's economy has transformed in recent decades so that it no longer has dramatic boom-and-bust cycles common before 1970.

"Before 1970, migration patterns here looked like the Wyoming of today: the booms and the busts of energy and mining and federal government spending. People would just come and go with those cycles. But now our economy has diversified enough and we are large enough that our migration patterns have come to resemble those of larger western states," Perlich said.

The Census estimated that 11.6 percent of Americans older than age 1 moved during 2011, a record low amid an economy that was still slow. But in Utah, the move rate was 17 percent. Eight out of 10 of those movers shifted homes within the state, but the rest came from outside it.

(In separate Current Population Survey data also released on Monday, the Census had additional estimates for 2012 on the national level, but not for individual states. It said the move rate increased to 12.0 percent nationally then, but noted that is still low.)

Census estimates showed which states provided the most immigrants to Utah in 2011.

They were: California, from where an estimated 18,237 people moved to Utah; Idaho, 7,538; Arizona, 6,585; Washington, 4,825; Texas, 4,507; Nevada, 4,315; Colorado, 3,986; Ohio, 2,584; and Virginia, 2,413.

Data also say which states attracted the most Utahns to move to them that year. They were: Arizona, 10,577; California, 8,944; Idaho, 6,059; Texas, 5,234; Washington, 4,789; Colorado, 3,856; Oregon, 3,443; and Nevada, 3,365.

"California has dominated our migration flow, in and out, for a long time," Perlich said.

Survey estimates also say 14,465 people moved to Utah from outside of the country in 2011, but do not provide estimates of how many Utahns moved out of the country at the same time — so it provides no estimates of net in-migration from abroad.

Perlich noted that many of those who reported moving to Utah from abroad are likely returning LDS missionaries, along with university students and those immigrants attracted by the labor force.