Tue, Aug. 20

Arizona gains ground in Census study

PHOENIX -- If people vote with their feet, then at least a few people last year saw Arizona as a land of opportunity.

New figures Monday from the U.S. Census Bureau showed the number of people moving to Arizona from other states slightly exceeded the number of folks who decided to seek fame and fortune elsewhere.

Arizona gained 222,877 people from the other 49 states. The biggest surge came from California which added nearly 50,000 to this state's ranks.

But the flow was not one way.

The Census Bureau said nearly 212,000 people who had called Arizona their home at the beginning of last year ended up in some other state by the time 2012 rolled around. And that included nearly 36,000 former "Zonies' who ended up in California.

Marshall Vest of the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona said several other states also produced a net positive flow into Arizona.

Some of them, he noted, were from colder climes. That included more than 9,000 from economically depressed Michigan, with fewer than 4,000 Arizonans deciding to go there.

But the picture was decidedly different with Texas. The fewer than 13,000 people who were living there made the move to Arizona were eclipsed by more than 20,000 Arizonans opting to move to the Lone Star state.

Arizona also lost residents to Florida, Oregon, New Mexico and Ohio.

And even Nevada, which the Census Bureau said lost residents to Arizona in 2009, posted a net inflow for that state last year, though not great.

Economist Tom Rex of the W.P. Care School of Business at Arizona State University cautioned against reading too much into the numbers. He said the Census Bureau itself concedes that, given the sampling it does, there is a possible margin of error.

How large? The federal agency itself says that guess of 222,877 new people from other states could be up to 14,000 more -- or 14,000 less. And there is a 17,000 margin of error on the outflow.

Still, Rex said, there are indications that some of the trends, if not the exact numbers, may be valid.

He said that when the Arizona economy was booming, Arizona attracted people from pretty much everywhere, including Texas. But Rex said there is every reason to believe that flow has reversed itself -- and substantially.

"Texas, of all the states, wasn't as hard hit with the economic downturn,' he said.

Much of that, Rex explained, is that the housing "bubble' that hit Arizona and some other states in the region never really hit the Texas market.

"There was none of the investment activity in Texas,' he said, with the sharp run-up in prices followed by a sudden collapse. "So that left them a lot better off.'

Vest said other factors were at play.

"The energy industry remained strong,' he said. "So Texas' economy held up well during the recession and has expanded nicely during the recovery.'

Vest said the latest numbers also show some losses to other states in the West, including Oregon, New Mexico and Colorado.

And then there's Florida: If the numbers are to be believed, more than 8,000 Arizonans decided they prefer hurricanes to haboobs.

"Florida is a mystery,' said Vest. Rex agreed, saying that, historically speaking, there hasn't been much migration in the past between the two states.

But Rex said the net inflow from California is likely much easier to explain. He said they're probably people who aren't coming here looking for work.

"They live in California,' he said. "Then they retire and say, 'we need to move someplace less expensive because our income has dropped so much.' '

Even if the net inflow from Arizona from other states is not great, the state did add population from another source. The Census Bureau figures that more than 42,000 people living in Arizona at the end of last year started the year in another country.

The federal agency cannot say how many Arizonans became expatriates last year because it only surveys those within the country about where they were a year earlier.