Utahns continue to migrate more often than most Americans as they frequently change homes — although that slowed a bit last year, according to new U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

About one of every six Utahns changed residences in 2019 — 15.8% to be exact. That ranked number 10 among the states. The new data also shows which states are the most popular destinations for departing Utahns, and the top locations from where new residents arrived.

Utahns' migration was down from the previous year when 17.1% relocated, which then ranked No. 6 nationally.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)
(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Demographers say that in 2019, what had been a hot economy in Utah started to level off and became less of a magnet to job seekers. Also, affordable housing became more difficult to find in Utah, which may have diverted or halted some would-be migrants.

The new data is for a period before COVID-19 hit this year. Demographers are unsure whether the pandemic decreased migration even more as many lost jobs and the financial resources to relocate, or whether migration actually increased as some came here from more expensive areas to use Utah as an affordable “Zoom town” to work remotely.

“We’re really going to be interested to see what that data [next year] shows because it almost feels like it could be either,” said Emily Harris, a demographer at the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Institute.

New Census estimates show that just over a half-million current Utah residents moved last year. Most — some 389,000 of them — changed homes within the state. Another 96,000 immigrated from other states. And nearly 16,000 came from abroad (and the lion’s share of them likely were returning missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

Slowing mobility

Harris said mobility in Utah decreased in 2019 “as we saw a natural leveling off of the economic cycle” after several years where Utah was at or near the top in the nation for economic and population growth. So, it was less attractive to job seekers than it had been when unemployment rates were so low that employers had trouble finding enough workers.

“Utah was no longer the fastest growing state in the nation. A lot of people were moving to other states kind of around Utah, like Idaho and Nevada particularly,” Harris said. “People had more options than just Utah” as its economy was more like other Western states.

She also sees another major reason for a decrease in migration.

“With housing affordability becoming more of an issue in Utah, that could be redirecting potential in-migrants,” Harris said. “We may look affordable to places like California, Colorado, and Washington, but people from other places might see Utah — the Wasatch Front — as too expensive.”

Harris sees several reasons why Utah are more migratory than most Americans (about 13.7% of Americans moved last year, compared to 15.8% in Utah).

In addition to the good economy, 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. Also Utah universities draw young people from out of state.

“We attract a lot of people in their 20s and 30s,” she said. “There’s a lot of good job opportunities in the Wasatch Front, especially for first jobs. … Maybe they visit for an interview and they see the mountains, outdoor recreation and city amenities — and that’s really attractive. The Utah lifestyle is really attractive to young adults.”

Another reason for Utahns' high mobility is its high concentration of Latter-day Saints, many of whom leave temporarily and return for missions. She said most of the large number of people who move in from abroad annually are returning missionaries.

Where they come from

In 2019, estimates say some people from every state except Delaware and Maine immigrated to Utah.

The state providing the most immigrants by far was California: 17,821 of them. That’s essentially the equivalent of the population of Centerville.

Other nearby states were not far behind.

Other top states, in order, included: Nevada, 10,529; Colorado, 7,856; Idaho, 6,752; and Arizona, 6,031.

Harris has noted that most movers tend to stay relatively close to home. “When it comes to migration,” she has said, "the farther away you’re going to move, the less likely it is to happen.

Other states that were in the top 10 for providing immigrants to Utah were: Texas, 4,871; Washington, 4,481; Illinois, 4,238; Oregon, 2,873; and Connecticut, 2,830.

New Census Bureau data also gives estimates about the birthplaces of current residents.

It says 61.7% of current Utahns were born in the state. About 9.3% were born abroad. Other top birthplaces include: California, 2.9%; Idaho and Arizona, 2.4% each; Nevada, Texas and Washington, 1.6% each; and Colorado, 1.5%.

Estimates say that some current Utahns were born in every state of the Union.

Where they go

At least some departing Utahns moved to every state except West Virginia.

The top destination in 2019 for Utahns who left the state was Texas, where 10,072 moved (the equivalent of the population of Vernal). Last year, the economy of Texas was booming.

Texas moved up to the No. 1 destination from No. 4 a year earlier. The previous No. 1 was California, which fell to No. 4 in the latest estimates, with 8,504 Utahns moving there.

Others top 10 destinations for Utahns who moved in 2019 included: Arizona, 8,917; Idaho, 7,371; Nevada, 6,593; Washington, 5,440; Oregon, 3,684; Florida, 3,433; Ohio, 2,629; and Colorado, 2,458.