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Economic Resilience: How Fort Worth’s Migration Trends Defied National Patterns

A recent report was published by the Economic Innovation Group (EIG), examining migration trends in the United States in 2020 and 2021 during the initial recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. By tracking households’ tax returns as they move from county to county, the EIG found “that the flight of workers and families from major cities also entailed a major exodus of taxable income.” Specifically, the EIG found that heavy migration away from coastal metro areas into specific regions of the U.S. accounted for most of the observed change.

The EIG’s analysis of annual change in adjusted gross income (AGI) found that the migration of high earners closely mirrored broader growth trends in the United States. High earners are largely moving to the Sun Belt and the West; Texas, Utah, Florida, Arizona, Tennessee, the Carolinas, etc., the same areas of the country seeing the largest population growth according to the last Census. The AGI of the average incoming migrant to such places typically far exceeds the AGI of the average outgoing migrant. The net result is not just a growth in population, but a growth in average AGI per household within these growing regions.

The opposite is true of the large urban areas that experienced population loss, such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. Outgoing migrants from these areas averaged a higher AGI than the incoming migrants, resulting in a net loss of both population and average household AGI.

With the data telling us that Americans are moving out of urban areas for more suburban and rural areas, and taking their above average AGI with them, how did Fort Worth fare during this shakeup?

Fort Worth is in an extremely unique position when analyzing urban/metro growth trends. The South is the fastest-growing region of the United States. Texas is among the fastest-growing states, and Fort Worth is the fastest-growing large city in the country.

Total Adjusted Gross Income

According to the EIG analysis, Fort Worth remained relatively flat in total AGI, with a 0.3% increase from 2020-2021. Among the 15 most populous counties in the U.S., listed in order below, Tarrant County was one of just five to not see a decrease in total AGI from 2020-2021.

  1. Los Angeles County (CA), -3.7%
  2. Cook County (IL), -5.4%
  3. Harris County (TX), -1.5%
  4. Maricopa County (AZ), +3.1%
  5. San Diego County (CA), -0.1%
  6. Orange County (CA), -2.1%
  7. Miami-Dade County (FL), +12.5%
  8. Dallas County (TX), -1%
  9. Kings County (NY), -7.8%
  10. Riverside County (CA), +2.8%
  11. Clark County (NV), +8%
  12. Queens County (NY), -7.1%
  13. King County (WA), -3.3%
  14. San Bernardino County (CA), -0.8%
  15. Tarrant County (TX), +0.3%

Average Household Adjusted Growth Income

Metro areas witnessing a sharp increase or decrease in total or average household AGI will be presented with different challenges: housing price fluctuations, tax base impact, cost of living swings, etc. Despite the fast-paced population growth in Fort Worth, Tarrant County’s incoming migrants have almost the exact same average household AGI as the outgoing migrants, which could be an indicator of more stable growth than is witnessed in other fast-growing communities.

Below are the 15 most populous counties in the U.S., listed in order of population, and their respective difference in average household AGI for incoming migrants compared to the average household AGI for outgoing migrants from the same county in 2020-2021. In other words, what is the difference in average income for newcomers to each community when compared to the average income for households leaving the same community?

  1. Los Angeles County (CA), -$16.1k
  2. Cook County (IL), -$37.1k
  3. Harris County (TX), -$8.8k
  4. Maricopa County (AZ), +$15.3k
  5. San Diego County (CA), +$7.3k
  6. Orange County (CA), -$10.9k
  7. Miami-Dade County (FL), +$162k
  8. Dallas County (TX), +$4k
  9. Kings County (NY), -$6k
  10. Riverside County (CA), +$7k
  11. Clark County (NV), +$47.2k
  12. Queens County (NY), -$15.5k
  13. King County (WA), -$16.8k
  14. San Bernardino County (CA), -4.8k
  15. Tarrant County (TX), -$460

Local Regional Analysis

The observed changes in population and AGI aren’t all a result of people and businesses moving across the country. With the steep decline in large urban areas, many simply opted to move to nearby suburbs or exurbs. What happened in the nearby counties of Denton, Johnson, Parker, Wise, and Hood during this major demographic shift?

Annual change in total AGI, 2020-2021

  • Denton County, +7.2%
  • Johnson County, +7.2%
  • Parker County, +11.2%
  • Wise County, +9.4%
  • Hood County, +9.9%

The average income difference between in-migrants and out-migrants

  • Denton County, +13.8k
  • Johnson County, +6.8k
  • Parker County, +24.9k
  • Wise County, +18k
  • Hood County, +21.4k

The more suburban, exurban, and rural areas surrounding Tarrant County certainly saw an increase in both total and average household AGI, consistent with patterns across the country. Fortunately, it doesn’t appear to have cost Tarrant County a large exodus in population and capital for the surrounding areas to have achieved this growth.

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a swift movement of people and capital across the country. Different regions proved more economically resilient in their recovery from the pandemic, and it may take more time and data before the full impacts are understood.

But the EIG data seems to tell a positive story for Fort Worth. During a period when many large urban areas lost population and capital, Tarrant County grew in both metrics. And while some larger urban areas witnessed drastic swings in average household AGI that could have consequences for tax bases and cost of living, Fort Worth’s population shifts netted very minimal change in this respect.

View the full report from the Economic Innovation group on their website.

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