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Warren Fiske
By Warren Fiske June 17, 2021

Are more people leaving Virginia for other states than moving in?

Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin says recent Democratic governors have pushed Virginia into economic decline and people are moving out.

"Over the last few years, more Virginians are moving away from Virginia than are moving to Virginia from the other 49 states," he said during a May 21 interview on WRVA radio in Richmond. 

Youngkin holds two Democrats responsible: Current Gov. Ralph Northam and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who led the state from 2014-2018 and is Youngkin’s opponent this year. Virginia is the only state that bars governors from serving successive terms.

We fact-checked Youngkin’s talking-point claim that more people are leaving Virginia than coming in and found it to be correct, although the reasons for the outward migration go far beyond any governor’s control.

The numbers

The Internal Revenue Service publishes annual statistics on the number of households that moved and filed federal tax returns from a different state than the one in which they lived the previous year. Demographers and economists use these figures to track the "net migration" of families in the U.S. from year to year.

The data show that from 1991 through 2012, Virginia always had more households coming in than going out. That changed in 2013, when there was a net loss of 4,270 households. Virginia had fewer filing households in each of the next five years - an average annual loss of 5,600 families. In 2018, the last year for which figures are available, Virginia lost a net of 4,707 households.

This doesn’t mean there’s been a massive flow out of Virginia. To give some perspective, about 4 million Virginia households annually file federal taxes. The net losses to other states in 2018 came to less than one-eighth of 1% of households. 

The U.S. Census Bureau also tracks net migration. It estimates that Virginia lost a net 11,994 people through domestic migration during the 12-month period that ended July 1, 2019. 

The reasons

Jobs were the main reason people left Virginia for other states at the start of the last decade. That switched to the rising cost of living at the end of the decade, according to economic and demographic studies. 

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Virginia is home to large military bases, and a fleet of defense and government contractors and federal workers that drive the state’s economic engine in Northern Virginia. The region was hurt by sequestration programs beginning in 2013 that automatically cut defense and domestic spending when Congress could not agree on a budget.

The result was that many Virginians whose paychecks were dependent on federal spending, particularly for defense, left the state to find new jobs, according to a 2016 report by Old Dominion University. 

More recently, the migration has been mainly triggered by people escaping the high cost of living in Northern Virginia, according to Hamilton Lombard, a demographer at the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia. They are largely young professionals seeking to buy first homes and raise families. Many are heading South to growing regions in North Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Texas.

Lombard also said that Virginia is losing retirees, mostly to Southern states.

Youngkin blames the migration losses on McAuliffe and Northam.He prefaced his claim by saying he is "frustrated with what the Democratic leadership had done to Virginia over eight years."

But Lombard said the governors have had little control over the economic trends that have caused losses. "Think of the cost of housing; the state has little control of that," he said.

"If you could point to anything that could have been done on the state level over the years, maybe it could have focused on making more of Virginia (economically) competitive outside Northern Virginia," Lombard said.

Our ruling

Youngkin said, "Over the last few years, more Virginians are moving away from Virginia than are moving to Virginia from the other 49 states." IRS data backs him up.

But Youngkin wraps the data in a questionable political context. He blames the last two Democratic governors for the net migration loss when research shows most of the drop has been caused by problems largely beyond any governor's control: federal budget cuts and high prices for buying a home in Northern Virginia.

Youngkin’s statement is accurate but needs clarification. So, we rate it Mostly True.

 

Our Sources

Glenn Youngkin, WRVA interview, May 24, 2021 (4:40 mark).

Youngkin, WINA interview, May 13, 2021 (3:55 mark).

PolitiFact Virginia, "Nikki Haley: 'More people today are leaving Virginia than moving in,'" May 17, 2016.

Interview with Hamilton Lombard, research specialist at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, June 11, 2021.

Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, "Out-migration from Virginia continues for a fourth consecutive year," Dec. 7, 2017.

Internal Revenue Service, "SOI Tax Stats - Migration Data," accessed June 9, 2021.

IRS, "Returns Filed, Taxes Collected & Refunds Issued," accessed June 11, 2021.

U.S. Census Bureau, State to State Migration Flows, 2019.

Old Dominion University, "State of the Commonwealth Report," 2016 and 2020.

 

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