On Monday, Bloomberg ran a story under the headline “Over 1 in 10 New Texas Residents Migrated There From California.” The story is based on data compiled by the location data firm Placer.ai. The firm uses this statistic to suggest that California-first chains like In-N-Out and Trader Joes are seeing increased foot traffic because of all the Californians in Texas. The story fits with the larger narrative that people are leaving California for Texas in droves. Sometimes this is presented as part of a larger argument of blue-staters voting with their feet to move to a red state as evidence of the supremacy of conservative principles.
There is just one problem with all of this. Based on Placer.ai’s own data, Californians are moving to Texas at exactly the rate we’d expect them to based on random chance.
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The logic here is very simple. Some people move between states every year for normal life reasons. That is good and normal and not a cause of alarm. And California has the most people of any state. Therefore, all things equal, we’d expect lots of people from California to be moving to Texas. In fact, we would expect that more people from California would be moving to Texas than from any other state, again, because California has the most people. This would not in itself imply anything is wrong with California or great about Texas. It would simply mean people are doing what we would expect them to do. The only way this particular data point would suggest something is indeed amiss is if a disproportionate number of new Texans came from California relative to California’s population.
That may sound confusing, but doing some quick math makes it all very clear. The population of the United States minus Texas—because people already in Texas cannot move to Texas—is 300.86 million people. California’s population is 39.35 million, or 13 percent of the U.S.’s non-Texas population. Therefore, more than 13 percent of Texas’s new residents would have to be Californians in order for there to be something of note going on here.
But that’s not the case. According to Placer.ai which uses “foot traffic data” gleaned by tracking people’s phones, 11.1 percent of new Texans from July 2019 and July 2022 are from California. That’s actually slightly less than one would expect based on an even distribution. If anything, the pertinent question from Placer.ai’s data is: Why are so few Californians moving to Texas?
There are potential mitigating factors here, such as that people may be more likely to move to adjacent states—which is probably why Louisiana and Oklahoma have disproportionate shares of their populations moving to Texas—or there are clearly delineated desire paths with a consistent flow of migration, such as the Northeast to Florida as retirees relocate. It is also theoretically possible Placer.ai’s data is flawed (the white paper has no methodology section). The lesson here is not that Californians aren’t moving to Texas at high rates. It is that it would be surprising if they weren’t.
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