People leaving Sunbelt, census says. Is Massachusetts a new 'hot' spot?

Sunbelt states like Nevada and Florida are seeing residents pack up and leave, according to a new census report.

Carlos Barria/Reuters/File
With high unemployment and continued foreclosure problems, Florida is seeing a net outmigration of people for the second year in a row. In the most recent 2008-2009 period, 31,200 more Americans left the state than moved in, according to census data released Dec. 23.

The Sunbelt has lost its lure, at least temporarily.

For more than a decade, Americans pulled up stakes in regions like the Northeast and Midwest to live in warmer climes. Now, in several key Sunbelt states, that flow has slowed or stopped altogether.

In Florida, for example, 31,200 more people moved out of the state than moved in during the 12 months ended this past June, according to data released by the Census Bureau on Wednesday. That's the biggest outflow of the decade and only the state's second annual net loss. (Florida lost a net 18,600 last year.)

The reversal is even more remarkable in Nevada. The fastest-growing state for 18 years in a row, Nevada's 3,800 migration dip in 2009 was its first.

Both states' populations still grew: New births and foreign immigration more than made up for the people who moved out. Still, outmigration's effects are apparent. Nevada, the fastest-growing state as late as 2004, is now only No. 17. Once fast-rising Florida now has growth rates closer to those of Minnesota and Missouri.

"That's a real big slowdown," says Greg Harper, a demographer at the Census Bureau in Suitland, Md. And it's not limited to those two states.

Arizona saw its smallest net inmigration of the decade this year. Georgia experienced its second-smallest influx. California, by contrast, has had net outmigration every year this decade.

Who are the big winners? They're few and far between, because fewer people moved this year than at any time in the decade.

Still, some states have seen a turnaround. Massachusetts and the District of Columbia saw their first net population inflow of the decade this year. North Dakota experienced its second – and biggest.

West Virginia saw its biggest influx of the decade and Wyoming, which is now America's fastest-growing state, had its biggest increase in net migration this year.

Does this spell the end of the Sunbelt's big growth spurt?

"This is definitely a break," says Mr. Harper of the Census Bureau. But "it's probably too early to say ... Things could turn around."

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In tough economic times, population shifts can signal where people are finding - or think they might find - opportunity. Are you fleeing the Sunbelt? Let us know on Twitter.

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