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The States Americans Are Fleeing the Fastest

Esther Trattner
The States Americans Are Fleeing the Fastest

Americans seeking a better way of life, including in retirement, are voting with their feet — and their household belongings. As people relocate, some states come out winners, and others are big losers.

United Van Lines says its latest data shows Americans on the move still favor places in the West and South, and most often want to see the Northeast and Midwest in a rearview mirror. But there are exceptions to these patterns.

Follow along as we count down the 15 states where United says the biggest percentages of moves take people out of state. That is, they're outbound moves.

15. Maryland

Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

Outbound moves: 53.1%

Maryland is a treasure trove of history and outdoor adventures — but people don't want to stay rooted here.

The high cost of living, above-average health care costs, exorbitant taxes and soaring home prices are all pushing Marylanders to look elsewhere for jobs and an affordable retirement.

Half of people who left in 2018 were 55 and older — which is not surprising when you consider that we found it's the very worst state for retirees.

Gov. Larry Hogan told WTTG-TV he hoped Maryland’s poor showing in the MoneyWise study would convince the legislature to take action. The governor has proposed cutting taxes in the state by $500 million within five years.

14. Kentucky

f11photo / Shutterstock

Outbound moves: 53.5%

Kentucky is famous for its gorgeous bluegrass landscapes and the thrilling Kentucky Derby, but the lack of good jobs is driving Kentuckians into exile.

The state has one of the nation's highest unemployment rates. And while many of Kentucky's neighbors — including West Virginia, Ohio, Illinois and Missouri — have been raising the minimum wage, Kentucky has been stuck at $7.25 an hour for 10 years.

More than half the people who move out of Kentucky are leaving to take a better job somewhere else, United Van Lines found.

Kentucky officials say the next few years should bring more opportunities in engineering and manufacturing. Plus, jobs are opening up in secondary education, health care — and of course, the bourbon industry.

13. Wisconsin

Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

Outbound moves: 54%

Despite their state's many charms, many Wisconsinites are packing up their Green Bay Packers cheesehead hats and are moving out.

The state’s low cost of living and steady, if slow, employment growth remain attractive, but housing prices have been rising rapidly — and to record levels.

Another negative is Wisconsin's long, brutal winters. In the state’s entire recorded weather history, every winter but five hit temperatures of at least 30 below zero, according to data from the National Weather Service.

So maybe it's not surprising that more than half the people who moved away in 2018 were ages 55 or older — probably because they were looking for a warmer retirement destination.

12. Louisiana

Kevin Ruck / Shutterstock

Outbound moves: 54.3%

With its unique food and music culture, friendly folks and nearly endless outdoor activities, Louisiana is a very popular place for tourists to visit.

But many people are deciding that you wouldn't want to live here.

Job growth is near stagnant in Louisiana, and the taxes can be brutal: The average combined sales tax is second highest in the U.S. at 9.46%, but employment outside of farms increased by just 0.1% from 2018 to 2019.

Though the natural gas, methanol and technology industries are growing in the Pelican State, United Van Lines finds an overwhelming 70.8% of people who move out are heading to new jobs elsewhere.

11. California

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Outbound moves: 54.4%

California’s beachy, urban, outdoorsy lifestyles attract hardworking professionals and businesses that are ready to hustle. But the state's astronomical housing prices and high living costs often kill the dream.

The top reasons people move out include jobs (41%), followed by family issues (25%) and retirement (22%).

“Unlike a few decades ago, retirees are leaving California, instead choosing other states in the Pacific West and Mountain West," Michael Stoll, public policy economist at the University of California, Los Angeles, told United Van Lines.

A CNBC study ranks California last in the nation for business friendliness and 49th out of the 50 states for cost of living.

9. (tie) Michigan

Henrik Sadura / Shutterstock

Outbound moves: 55%

Despite this state’s glorious parks and nearly 3,300 miles of coastline to explore, nature lovers and others are choosing to pitch their tents someplace other than Michigan.

While the state offers job opportunities in computers, math and management, it’s got even more lower-paying work — such as in food preparation, paying under $20,000 per year, reports Michigan-based Bridge Magazine.

The congressional Joint Economic Committee ranks Michigan as the No. 7 state for “brain drain," meaning that younger, highly educated workers are fleeing the Wolverine State for better opportunities.

About half the people who moved out in 2018 told United Van Lines that the primary reason was jobs. About a quarter said retirement was the driving factor.

9. (tie) Montana

John Bilous / Shutterstock

Outbound moves: 55%

Montana’s sociable culture and gorgeous landscapes are attracting A-listers and wealthy out-of-staters to shack up in the mountains — but only on vacation.

The state’s once rock-bottom cost of living has gone up, though it's still much lower than in most other states. But housing can be hard to find, and there are few work options outside of low-paying seasonal jobs in tourism and the oil industry.

Montana also is far from America's major population centers. The top reason people moved out in 2018 was to be closer to family.

An additional problem in Montana is its shortage of health care, with just 2.3 doctors per 1,000 residents.

8. Iowa

Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock

Outbound moves: 55.5%

Iowa sunsets over golden cornfields are the stuff of poetry, and its cities and job market are growing — yet nearly three-quarters of those moving away are looking for better employment.

In Iowa, even in-demand tech jobs pay less than in other states, and the cost of living in Iowa's largest cities has risen to levels that are unaffordable for many.

Aside from the pay, young Reddit users in Iowa complain about the state’s weather extremes, poorly funded public schools, crumbling infrastructure — and they say that “Iowa is a boring state to live in.”

By far, the largest group leaving the Hawkeye State is young people ages 18 to 34. They get their degrees from the University of Iowa or Iowa State and decide they'd rather settle down somewhere else.

7. Massachusetts

Galipynutz / Shutterstock

Outbound moves: 55.7%

Beautiful, historic Massachusetts is a great place to get an education, see a doctor, and enjoy a wicked fresh lobster roll. (Make that lobstah roll.)

Sadly, the insane cost of living here makes it difficult for residents to repay their student loans and make ends meet. People of all ages are leaving, with the 55-and-over crowd leading the pack.

More than half of those who head for the exits point to jobs as the No. 1 reason they’re moving — maybe because their company is relocating to a warmer and less expensive state, like Texas.

Massachusetts' harsh winters, eye-popping housing costs and terrible traffic congestion — Boston's is the worst, according to one study — all make good arguments not to stay put in Massachusetts.

6. Ohio

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Outbound moves: 56.5%

Ohio’s courteous Midwestern spirit is as inviting as its amusement parks, Lake Erie islands and simple yet innovative cuisine.

While plenty of people are drawn here from coastal states by the promise of a low cost of living and welcoming communities, more people are leaving. They give new meaning to the Ohio State Buckeyes' rallying cry, "Go Bucks!"

This Rust Belt state has been plagued by relatively high unemployment and slow job growth. And residents complain about the gray, punishing winters and the unequal access to good health care.

More than 6 out of 10 Ohioans who move out say they leave for job reasons. Others hit the road for better retirement destinations.

5. Kansas

TommyBrison / Shutterstock

Outbound moves: 58.7%

There's no place like home in Kansas, Dorothy famously said in The Wizard of Oz. But many residents are looking for a yellow brick road (or just a simple asphalt highway) that will take them to another state.

Despite the Sunflower State's low-cost, comfy lifestyle and low unemployment — just 3.2% in August 2019 — nearly 64% of people who move out are leaving for jobs elsewhere. Kansas is smack in the middle of Tornado Alley.

The lack of income growth drives experienced, educated workers away, and the state's windy-with-a-chance-of-tornadoes weather doesn't help either.

Admittedly, Kansas isn't for everybody — but have you ever seen a sunset over those amber waves of grain? In a word: spectacular.

4. New York

anastasios71 / Shutterstock

Outbound moves: 61.5%

New York state offers a mix of big-city living, small-town culture, sports, arts, rural wildlife, and urban rats capable of stealing a slice of pizza.

But life here is no picnic (or pizza party) when you consider the sky-high living costs in the Big Apple, bitter cold winters up north, taxes that are among the highest in the country, and scarcity of jobs in New York's rural areas.

Residents starting over in other states are looking for better jobs, a comfy retirement and a good place to raise the family — with other relatives close by.

Here's an astonishing stat: Close to 300 people move out of New York City every day, Bloomberg found.

3. Connecticut

Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

Outbound moves: 62%

Connecticut’s beaches and charming towns attract visitors year-round — but residents are leaving faster than the state's stunning beautiful autumn leaves fall off the trees.

As taxes rise and roads and bridges crumble, Nutmeggers are packing up and saying goodbye. (And hoping they won't be encountering too many potholes on the drive out.)

People nearing retirement (ages 55 to 64) are most likely to move out of Connecticut. More than half of those who depart have incomes of $150,000 and up, United Van Lines found.

Good riddance, says lifelong Connecticut resident and journalist Jim Shea. "You want to go, go. Good luck to you," he writes. "And don’t let the door hit you in the assets."

2. Illinois

Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

Outbound moves: 65.9%

The Prairie State has a host of greats within its boundaries: great farm produce, great colleges, great sports, one of America's greatest cities (Chicago) — and perhaps the greatest pizza of all.

Not so great is the state’s economy: Unemployment is on the high side compared to other states, and taxes are among the steepest in the country.

Illinois has the nation's second-highest property taxes and a punishing flat household income tax.

As Gov. J.B. Pritzker promises to implement a progressive income tax on the state’s wealthiest people, job seekers, adults over 55, and those earning more than $150,000 a year are leading an exodus from Illinois.

1. New Jersey

cdrin / Shutterstock

Outbound moves: 66.8%

The Garden State offers beaches, family-friendly suburbs and lots of football tailgating opportunities (because both the New York Giants and the New York Jets play here).

But despite all that New Jersey has going for it, people are moving out faster than from any other state, according to United Van Lines' annual study. In fact, New Jersey has been one of the top 10 move-out states in each of the last 10 years.

More than a third flee the state because of job opportunities elsewhere, and an equal share leave to find greener pastures for retirement.

Though unemployment is down and wages are going up in New Jersey, the state has a stiff cost of living, high taxes and notoriously bad roads.

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