What do monarch butterflies, humpback whales and Utahns have in common?
They tend to migrate a lot.
One of every 6 Utahns changed residences last year — 17.05% to be exact.
That was sixth highest among the states, according to estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
It reports that about a half-million current Utah residents say they moved last year. About 400,000 of them changed homes within the state. Another 100,000 immigrated from other states. And about 22,000 came from abroad (including returning missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).
Demographers see many reasons for the extra migration in Utah, including: the large number of religious missionaries; the nation’s youngest average age here means many young people move for school, jobs and missions; a hot economy that draws job seekers; and universities that attract out-of-state students.
“We know that employment is a huge driver of migration,” said Emily Harris, a demographer at the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. “With unemployment so low here right now, we just don’t have enough people here to fill all the positions.”
So she said Utah employers are recruiting from around the nation.
“Some workers may stay here forever. But many will stay here only for a time and move on,” adding to the state’s high migration numbers, said Harris — who was born in Ohio, raised in Tennessee and attended college in Indiana before a job attracted her to Utah.
Harris adds that Utah’s many large colleges also boost migration numbers.
“Especially with Ph.D. and master’s programs," she said, “they recruit a lot of people from outside the state.”
Then there’s the fact that Utahns have long had the lowest average age among the states. And young people tend to move more for school, jobs, missions and to start families — and more of them here means more migration.
Finally, Harris said, a key reason for extra mobility is Utah’s high concentration of Latter-day Saints.
“It’s definitely a driver for people temporarily moving out” because of religious missions served by so many Utahns. “When you’re looking at the numbers of people moving in and moving out, there’s definitely a number of those who are missionaries.”
New census data shows where most newly arrived Utahns came from, as well as the destinations of Utahns who recently moved. The data also shows the birthplaces of current residents.
Of the 100,000 or so people who moved to Utah in 2018, the census says the top places of origin were: California (18,025 people), Idaho (8,574), Washington state (8,186), Texas (7,528) and Arizona (6,827).
The Census Bureau estimates that people moved to Utah from every state, except perhaps Vermont.
Meanwhile, other states reported that about 91,000 former Utahns moved to them last year. The top destinations were: California (9,440), Washington (7,466), Nevada (7,133), Idaho (6,626) and Texas (6,287). Census data says at least some Utahns moved to every state in the nation.
New data also gives estimates about the birthplaces of current Utah residents — showing from where many came originally and giving a rough idea of how many natives may have moved away.
It says 61% of current Utahns are natives (although Harris notes that many may be children of immigrants). About 9.3% were born in foreign countries. Other top birthplaces include: California (7.8%), Idaho (2.6%), Texas (1.5%), Arizona (1.4%) and Colorado (1.3%). Again, data says some current Utahns were born in every state of the union.
Harris isn’t surprised that most Utahns who move tend to remain in the West.
“When it comes to migration," she said, “the farther away you’re going to move, the less likely it’s going to happen.”
Many Latter-day Saints tend to go where there are other “mini-hubs” of church members, such as Idaho and Southern California. “Many of them go there for family reasons.”
She notes that some of the top destinations for Utahns are other hot job markets, such as Seattle, Phoenix and Las Vegas. “They really are booming right now, and are drawing people from all over the nation.”