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Immigration into Utah slows to trickle

Published November 16, 2011 6:35 am

Census • Moving in general has dropped to the lowest rate in 63 years nationally.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Before the recession when the local economy boomed, Utah annually saw 30,000 to 40,000 more people move into the state than out of it — attracted by jobs. That's not happening anymore.

New Census Bureau estimates released Tuesday say a mere 2,239 more people moved into Utah between 2010 and 2011 than moved away, meaning the one-time flood of immigration has dried to a trickle.

"When we had a lot of people moving here, our unemployment rate was between 2 and 4 percent," said state demographer Juliette Tennert. "Last year the unemployment rate was between 7 and 8 percent. If there's a lot of economic opportunity, there is a lot of net in-migration. But there's not as much opportunity now."

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Still, Tennert says it is good that Utah still has some net immigration.

"Our economy is still better than some other states, so we still have net in-migration even though it is smaller. If we were doing poorly compared to others, we would see net out-migration," she said.

Moving in general — not just state-to-state immigration — also slowed to a six-decade low nationally amid the tough economy, Census data show.

About 17 percent of Utahns changed residences between 2010 and 2011 — down from 19 percent the year before. That was still far higher than the national average of 11.9 percent, the lowest since the Census Bureau began tracking such data in 1948.

University of Utah research economist Pam Perlich listed several reasons for the slow-down in relocation.

"We see a business cycle fluctuation — with people hunkering down and waiting for things to get better. We see the mortgage crisis effect, where people just can't sell their houses, so they are stuck. And we still have extended unemployment benefits going that are keeping people in place. Once those end, we'll see more movement between areas," Perlich said.

She said Utah likely still has more people moving than the national average because Utah has the lowest average age in the nation, and young people tend to move more. She noted that the peak age among people who move is about 23.

Tennert added, "Because we have the youngest average age in the nation, we have a lot of households being formed with marriages and people having children. That leads to more moving."

Census surveys estimate that 466,190 Utahns — about one in six — changed residences sometime in 2010. The vast majority of them — 83.3 percent — stayed within Utah.

Most of the 75,541 who left Utah generally moved to a nearby state. "That's typical, and they move where they are more likely to have ties with family, education and jobs," Tennert said.

The top five states where Utahns moved were: California (10,653 people), Idaho (8,014), Arizona (7,164), Colorado (4,748) and Nevada (4,500).

Nearby states also provided most of the estimated 77,780 Americans who immigrated to Utah.

The top five states providing Utah immigrants were: California (12,187 people), Arizona (8,147), Idaho (7,692), Texas (5,305) and Nevada (4,549).

"Our economy is better than four of those five states. Texas is showing signs of a recovery, but times are hard in those other states. That's probably why we are having people come here from them," Tennert said.

Both Tennert and Perlich expect that immigration to Utah will be slow for several years, and won't pick up until the national and local economies do.

"We're not going to pick back up where we were in 2007 when we finally come out of this in the next five or six years," Perlich said. "Some of the long-term drivers of growth are no longer in place; significant federal government investment in infrastructure is one of them."

The Census Bureau also released data Tuesday about "lifetime mobility" among the states. About 62.3 percent of current Utah residents were born here — and 28.6 percent moved from somewhere else (including 8 percent that were foreign-born).

Nationally, 58.8 percent of Americans live in the state where they were born. Utah ranks 21st highest among the states for the percentage of residents who are native-born.

Perlich notes that many of those native Utahns "are children of people who moved here. Because we are a net in-migration state, many younger people move here and have children here. They are counted among the native-born."

So even though Utah has a high rate of natives living here, she notes that preschool-age children in many areas are now "minority-majority," where minorities outnumber white people.