Where are Bay Area residents moving?
Migration refers to the movement of people from one location to another, typically crossing a county or regional boundary. Migration captures both voluntary relocation – for example, moving to another region for a better job, better schools or lower home prices – and involuntary relocation as a result of displacement. By looking at net flows (or net migration), we can better understand from where our region is attracting new residents and where current residents are moving. Importantly, due to data limitations, 5-year rolling average data is used throughout for this indicator.

Migration has defined our region, stretching back to the earliest days of the Gold Rush. The economy and culture of the Bay Area has benefited from migration – both domestic and international – through expanded economic opportunity, rapid innovation and cultural diversity. Exploring net migration trends can help us better understand how the Bay Area is changing over time, as well as to gauge our economic competitiveness compared to other states and regions.

Regional Performance
Economic recovery has markedly slowed the rate of out-migration from the Bay Area.

While the high cost of housing remains a major hurdle for the Bay Area, the strong job market has significantly reduced the net flow of residents moving to other states. In 2011, 15,800 more residents moved to other states than moved into our region. By 2014, this number had dropped by 90 percent. In this same four-year period, relocation from the Bay Area to more affordable counties in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys remained relatively stable. Net migration between the Bay Area and these communities indicates a net outflow of 14,400 residents in 2014, some of whom were displaced from rapidly gentrifying communities.

While immigration from other countries has been crucial in growing the Bay Area labor force over the decades, a more recent in-state trend has emerged in the last few years, the Bay Area is accommodating an annual net in-migration of nearly 8,000 people from Southern California.

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Historical Trend for Migration

Local Focus
The East Bay continues to be a more affordable option for Bay Area households seeking to remain close to major job centers.

While many people have moved outside the Bay Area in pursuit of lower-cost housing, relocation within our region is even more common. In 2015, there was a net flow of 14,800 people from the three counties closest to booming job centers – San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara – to the more affordable counties of the East Bay. Even within the East Bay, residents continue to relocate from Alameda County to lower-cost Contra Costa County, or north to Solano County.

Those moving out of the Bay Area often choose the closest county beyond the borders of the nine-county region. New arrivals to San Joaquin County are disproportionately from Alameda and Contra Costa counties, whereas residents relocating to locations like Los Banos in the Central Valley and Hollister in the Central Coast region often come from Santa Clara County. Intra-state migration into the Bay Area appears to be driven by proximity to high-wage job centers, with the lion’s share of former Southern Californians choosing San Francisco, Alameda and Santa Clara counties as their new homes.

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2015 Net Migration by County

Select a Bay Area county to see migration in and out of that county. Click a migration flow line on the map to see more information.

Top 5 Net In-Migration Counties

    Top 5 Net Out-Migration Counties

      National Context
      Economic opportunity remains a powerful driver for migration within the United States.

      Before accounting for immigration, only three of the ten most populous U.S. metro areas – Atlanta, Dallas and Houston – experienced net in-migration in 2015. These low-cost, jobs-rich metro areas are attracting new residents from across the country. At the same time, the Bay Area’s slight loss of residents remains a fraction of the out-migration flows from Chicago and New York. While some former New Yorkers and Chicagoans are merely relocating to warmer climates – such as the tens of thousands who annually relocate from New York to Florida – others are looking for better job opportunities and lower-cost housing.

      Immigration from other countries remains critical to the ongoing vitality of metropolitan areas across the United States. While New York and Los Angeles unsurprisingly attract the largest number of immigrants each year (given their substantial existing immigrant populations), the Bay Area and Miami rank third and fourth, respectively, for immigration. Economic opportunity, geographic proximity and the existence of established immigrant communities are critical drivers for immigration as well; over half of all Bay Area immigrants come from Asia and over two-thirds of all Miami immigrants relocate from countries in Latin America.

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      Metro Comparison for 2015 Net Migration

      Select a metro area to see migration in and out of that metro area.

      Click a migration flow line on the map to see more information.


      U.S. Census Bureau: American Community Survey

      County-to-County Migration Flow Tables

      Image: iStockPhoto (#478739524)

      Methodology Notes: 

      Data for migration comes from the American Community Survey; county-to-county flow datasets experience a longer lag time than other standard datasets available in FactFinder. 5-year rolling average data was used for migration for all geographies, as the Census Bureau does not release 1-year annual data. Data is not available at any geography below the county level; note that flows that are relatively small on the county level are often within the margin of error. The metropolitan area comparison was performed for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area, in addition to the primary MSAs for the nine other major metropolitan areas, by aggregating county data based on current metropolitan area boundaries. Data prior to 2011 is not available on Vital Signs due to inconsistent Census formats and a lack of net migration statistics for prior years. Only counties with a non-negligible flow are shown in the data; all other pairs can be assumed to have zero migration.

      Given that the vast majority of migration out of the region was to other counties in California, California counties were bundled into the following regions for simplicity:
      Bay Area: Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, Sonoma
      Central Coast: Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz
      Central Valley: Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, Tulare
      Los Angeles + Inland Empire: Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura
      Sacramento: El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo, Yuba
      San Diego: San Diego
      San Joaquin Valley: San Joaquin, Stanislaus
      Rural: all other counties (23)

      One key limitation of the American Community Survey migration data is that it is not able to track emigration (movement of current U.S. residents to other countries). This is despite the fact that it is able to quantify immigration, generally by continent of origin. Thus the Vital Signs analysis focuses primarily on net domestic migration, while still specifically citing in-migration flows from countries abroad based on data availability.