Infographic: The Two States Everyone's Fleeing From

7.1 million Americans moved to a different state in 2012. So where did they all go?

It’s like a big game of musical chairs. In any given year, 7.1 million U.S. citizens move from state to state, as if they’re trading one life for another.

A new infographic by data journalist Chris Walker traces these migrations by pulling data from the 2012 U.S. Census and placing it into a chord diagram. When using the interactive version, you can highlight any state around the wheel and track to which states its population most often relocated.

You’ll notice that Californians seem to move everywhere—blooming like a palm across the map—while Nebraskans appear to only relocate next door to Iowa. You might conclude that Midwesterners like to stay landlocked, and while that may be the case, it overlooks one last thing to keep in mind about this visualization: Lines only represent migrations of 10,000 people or more. So more populous states will always appear more diverse in their exit strategy.


“I made the 10,000 cut-off because otherwise the graph looks like a hairball,” Walker tells Co.Design. “People from Nebraska and Maine certainly move all around the country, but showing these relatively tiny movements makes the chart unreadable.”

Even still, there is a lot you can see. Walker points out that people who live in cold states—Maine and Alaska—have a “clear preference” for the warmer states of Florida and California. Hawaiians end up on the West Coast (Washington or California), as if they settle for the shortest plane ride possible. Meanwhile, if you hover your cursor over the states, you’ll see that Californians and New Yorkers are both moving away more than they’re moving in.

“California had a net outflow of over 73,000 people in 2012,” Walker explains. “That's a non-trivial population that could fill a medium-sized suburb. The reality is that states that once seemed to have relentless population growth are no longer attractive to many people.” (Californians most often end up in Texas, Nevada, Washington, and Arizona, while New Yorkers most often move to Florida—presumably to retire).

Walker speculates that these anti-California and New York trends could be based upon high costs of living coupling with tough economic conditions for the middle class. Such certainly seems plausible, but feel free to browse the entire interactive graphic and decide for yourself:

Try it here.

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15 Comments

  • Mike Rigby

    Visually it is captivating and it is hard to take your eyes away. But it is difficult to make sense of it.

  • Steve Sukman

    What a ridiculous way to analyze this data. One of the worst visualization techniques applied in a way that is gratuitous, inefficient and difficult to digest.

  • Steve Sukman

    Not joking at all. I'm in the business of data visualization and have found that these types of "Disco Viz" graphics take users longer to correlate than many other straightforward visualization techniques. Just because it's interactive and colorful and "interesting to poke at" doesn't make it an insightful or productive presentation.

  • aschmied

    you don't present a way to make it better though. I deciphered it pretty easily. Just because it's colorful, it doesn't make it gratuitous.