Mapping Domestic Migration with IRS Data

Forbes magazine just published a neat interactive map on American migration using data NOT from the Census, but from – the IRS. Whether you fill it out virtually or the old fashioned way, everyone fills in their address at the top of the 1040, and the IRS stores this in a database. If you file from a different address from one year to the next you must have moved, and the IRS publishes a summary file of where people went (with all personal information and practically all filing data stripped away) .

The Forbes map taps into five years of this data and lets you see all domestic in-migration and out-migration from a particular county. The map is a flow or line map with lines going from the county you choose to each target – net in-migration to your county is colored in blue and net out-migration is red. You can also hover over the sending and receiving counties to see how many people moved. Click on the map to choose your county or search by name; you also have the option of searching for cities or towns, as the largest place within each county is helpfully identified and tied to the data.

It’s relatively straightforward and fun to explore. Some of the trends are pretty striking – the difference between declining cities (Wayne County – Detroit MI) and growing ones (Travis County – Austin TX) is pretty vivid, as is the change in migration during the height of the housing boom period in 2005 compared to the depth of the bust in 2009 (see Maricopa County – Phoenix AZ). More subtle is the difference in the scope of migration between urban and rural counties, with the former having more numerous and broader connections and the latter having smaller, more localized exchanges. Case in point is my home state of Delaware – urban New Castle County (Wilmington) compared to rural Sussex County (Seaford). There are many other stories to see here – the exodus from New Orleans after Katrina and the subsequent return of residents, the escape from Los Angeles to the surrounding mountain states, and the pervasiveness of Florida as a destination for everybody (click on the thumbnails below for full images of each map).

Detroit 2009

Wayne Co MI (Detroit) 2009

Austin 2009

Travis Co TX (Austin) 2009

Phoenix 2005

Mariciopa Co AZ (Phoenix) 2005

Phoenix 2009

Mariciopa Co AZ (Phoenix) 2009

Wilmington 2009

New Castle Co DE (Wilmington) 2009

Seaford 2009

Sussex Co DE (Seaford) 2009

While the map is great, the even better news is that the data is free and can be downloaded by anyone from the IRS Statistics page. They provide a lot of summary data – information for individuals is never reported. The individual tax data page with data gleaned from the 1040 has the most data that is geographic in nature. If you wanted to see how much and what kind of tax is collected by state, county, and ZIP code you could get it there. The US Population Migration data used to create the Forbes map is also there and the years from 2005 to 2009 are free (migration data from 1991 to 2004 is available for purchase).

You can download separate files for county inflow and county outflow on a state by state basis in Excel (.xls) format, or you can download the entire enormous dataset in .dat or .csv format. The data that’s reported is the number of filings and exemptions that represent a change in address by county from one year to the next, and includes the aggregated adjusted gross income of the total filers. There are some limitations – in order to protect confidentiality, if the flow from one county to another has less than 10 moves that data is lumped into an “other” category. International migration is also lumped into one interntaional category (on the Forbes map, both the other category where two counties have a flow less than 10 and the foreign migration category are not depicted).

The IRS migration data is often used when creating population estimates; when combined with vital stats on births and deaths it can serve as the migration piece of the demographic equation.

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