1. New Jersey
Outbound moves: 68.5%
The grass is always greener outside the Garden State, as New Jersey retains its No. 1 spot from last year’s list.
Jersey has been one of the top 10 move-out states for United Van Lines for more than a decade. Jobs and retirement are equally likely to send people packing.
Taxes could be a major culprit — New Jersey has some of the highest in the country — though Reddit’s bjorn2bwild says just about everything is incredibly expensive.
“We have high property taxes if you want to live in a decent area. School districts are very closely tied to municipalities, so if you want your kids to go to a good school, prepare to pay for it. Auto insurance, tolls, most goods and services are all very high.”
Outbound moves: 66.5%
Still in the No. 2 spot following last year’s ranking, the Prairie State is known for Chicago, expansive farmland, the world’s largest bottle of catsup and high taxes.
A survey from NPR Illinois and University of Illinois Springfield saw 77% of respondents rate the economy as fair or poor. In the same survey, 3 out of 5 people said they’ve considered moving elsewhere, and taxes was the most common reason why.
Quora commenter Michael Kong suggested education is one reason taxes are so high.
“I can say it has something to do with supporting the local school system,” wrote Kong.
“Every year I receive a letter explaining where my property tax goes into. From the letter, I can see about $8,000 goes to the public school system, and another $2,000 goes to the community college.”
3. New York
Outbound moves: 63.1%
Living in New York City is an infamous challenge, as the median home costs over $1.6 million and rent will run you around $5,000 per month. Regular folks often have to get creative and earn a little extra however they can.
And it’s not just the Big Apple that will take a huge bite out of your paycheck. On a cost-of-living index created by the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC), New York ranks fifth in the nation.
Taxes in particular are crippling. Between income, property and sales tax, you’ll lose more in New York than anywhere else.
Outbound moves: 63.0%
Some may know it as the Nutmeg State over tales of peddlers selling fake nutmeg in centuries past. But today, people in Connecticut are losing their money to the state’s over-the-top cost of living.
MERIC data shows everything is more expensive here, especially housing and utilities.
And despite its seaside appeal, Connecticut doesn’t seem like it’s retaining its retirees. Almost 35% of the people who left wanted to retire somewhere else, competing with jobs for the No. 1 reason to move. If you want to spend your later years in a place like this, you'll need a solid plan.
Another compelling reason: taxes. As in many states in the Northeast, residents can expect to lose a hefty chunk of their wealth to high income and sales tax.
Outbound moves: 58.5%
As Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home,” but sentiment isn’t keeping people in Kansas.
More than half shipped out for work, while retirement and family were each factors for a quarter of those who left. Though it’s cheap to live in Kansas and it’s not especially hard to find work, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows people earn about $6,000 less per year than the national average.
Lindsey Bugbee on Quora finds Western Kansas an insular place.
“Life is very slow-paced. People don’t pay attention to the world outside because Kansas is a perfect bubble of safety. In effect, some towns feel no need to distinguish themselves from other places.”
Outbound moves: 57.8%
“Why, oh why, did I ever leave Ohio? Why did I wander to find what lies yonder, when life was so cozy at home?”
The answer to that old song’s query was work for more than half who left last year. Wages in the state are a little below average, according to BLS, and unemployment is high at 4.2%.
Redditor DJWLJR says turbulent weather is one more reason to head for the hills.
“It's too hot, or too cold, and not enough of spring or fall. The weather here is erratic and sometimes very extreme.”
7. (tie) California
Outbound moves: 56.9%
The Golden State was new to the top 10 in the latest United Van Lines survey.
While work was the No. 1 reason to leave California, it was an even bigger reason to come. The land of Hollywood and Silicon Valley has an irresistible appeal.
However, the glamor comes with a price. California is the third most expensive place to live in the United States, beaten only by the District of Columbia and Hawaii on MERIC’s list.
Housing is particularly daunting, and depending on where you live, there’s always the chance your hard-earned property will be consumed by one of the state’s many wildfires.
7. (tie) Michigan
Outbound moves: 56.9%
Unemployment remains high in Michigan at 4.1%, and life can be hard even for people who do find a job.
In a 2019 study, the Michigan Association of United Ways found that the number of households that can’t afford basic services is on the rise. Low wages are the norm, with most jobs paying less than $20 per hour, so it can be hard to pull together the capital you need when life strikes.
Homerinthedetails, a Redditor, feels Michigan also lacks a cultural hub.
“That means less fine arts, no world-class museums, fewer jobs in banking/finance. People who prefer/need big cities usually head for Chicago, New York, Boston or San Francisco,” they wrote.
“And the winters, oh god, the winters. They go on and on and on, and they are so dreary.”
9. North Dakota
Outbound moves: 55.2%
North Dakota’s wide-open spaces are feeling even more empty these days.
While almost 60% of those who left did so for better job prospects, North Dakota’s unemployment rate is extremely low at just 2.4%. It seems finding a job isn’t hard; it just might not be a job you want.
Modern_rabbit on Reddit says the laid-back atmosphere can come as a “culture shock” to newcomers, highlighting a “lack of public transportation, lack of style, lack of flavor, lack of air pollution (and) lack of seafood.”
Outbound moves: 55.0%
Golden cornfields make Iowa lovely to look at, but that hasn’t stopped people from looking elsewhere.
Work was by far the biggest reason to leave, inspiring over 68% of those who left. Despite its low cost of living and unemployment rate, Iowa hasn’t been growing very fast. According to census data, its population increased just 3.6% during the 2010s, well below the national average of 6.3%.
Slow progress is a common complaint. Former resident Hiei2k7 on Reddit misses Iowa but not its job prospects.
“I have no upward mobility there,” Hiei2k7 wrote. “Sure, I could have kept my comfy job in Cedar Rapids, kept stocking away money and just lived out the rest of my days. Or tried to get a mate and start a family. But damn if I didn't feel stagnated.”
Outbound moves: 54.8%
This state has plenty to be proud of — the Mayflower, Boston Tea Party, Harvard — but it can’t brag about its affordability.
People pay a premium to reside in Massachusetts, ranking sixth out of 52 regions on MERIC’s cost of living index.
UebuNogami on Reddit offered one explanation for why Boston in particular is so expensive.
“There’s not enough housing to satisfy the demand. Unions make construction extremely expensive, and a requirement for the developer to give away a certain number of units for next to nothing makes building anything but luxury housing unprofitable.”
Outbound moves: 54.7%
Tourists come for Mardi Gras and cajun cuisine, but not everyone in Louisiana is celebrating.
Unemployment is a real problem at 4.9%, well above the national rate. Nearly one in five people in Louisiana is living below the poverty line, according to government census data.
Unsurprisingly, more than 70% of those leaving are doing so for work.
Quora commenter Delani Lass adds that the weather in southern Louisiana will leave you drained.
“It is horribly hot in the summer. (100 degrees with 100% humidity). Summer lasts from April until September/October. It gets cold once a week for two whole days then it warms back up.”
Outbound moves: 53.9%
People are fleeing the Treasure State for a wealth of reasons. While work was the biggest at almost 32%, family (27%), retirement (23%) and lifestyle (almost 20%) weren’t far behind.
Though Montana is sparsely populated, a 2019 economic study by the University of Montana found that housing is an emerging affordability issue, particularly in the western part of the state. Nailing down a good mortgage is more important than ever.
Redditor DoctorBadger101 says the dream of living in Montana doesn’t match reality.
“Isolation. At first, this sounds awesome. Spending all your time in the glorious beauty of Montana. Green trees, blue sky, crisp air, zero pollution,” they wrote.
“Until you realize that that’s not typical of Montana living and you’ll be isolated somewhere like Billings or Great Falls where the isolation isn’t beautiful and wisdom-inspiring, it’s just living in the middle of nowhere without a mountain in sight.”
Outbound moves: 52.9%
Virginia is low on lovers these days.
The state’s population is growing very slowly, possibly at its weakest rate since the 1920s, as tens of thousands of residents leave each year.
Jobs were the No. 1 incentive to leave at over 53%, though work was actually a greater motivation for those people entering the state.
boognish83 on Reddit offered some potential reasons to hit the road — or maybe not.
“Traffic is consistently terrible. I'm from Pittsburgh originally, and Norfolk actually changed the way I drive now. Flooding is pretty out of control in many areas. Also housing is pretty expensive for what it is; that might be everywhere, though.”
Outbound moves: 52.6%
Half of those who left America’s Dairyland did so for work, but it was far from the only reason. Retirement, family and lifestyle each resonated with roughly a fifth of them.
Considering more than half who fled Wisconsin were 55 and older, there’s a good chance a lot of snowbirds are deciding to ditch the state for good. It gets down to bone-chilling temperatures in winter.
TopOTheMuffin on Reddit says Wisconsin winters can really make you a homebody.
“You'll notice a lot of people break plans in the winter because of the cold. No one will directly say it, but it happens regularly that plans with people will get a, ‘I'm feeling kinda tired,’ which translates to, ‘I'm under the blankets and Netflix is already on.’ It’s pretty frustrating.”
Outbound moves: 52.4%
It’s no surprise that work is the No. 1 reason to leave Kentucky behind.
Unlike many states that have boosted their minimum wage to more livable levels, the minimum wage in Kentucky has long languished at the base federal rate of $7.25 per hour. Unemployment is high at 4.3%.
Redditor Bnlol1 advised residents to find work outside Kentucky to make ends meet.
“The commute in the morning will suck, but extra pay will make up for it and there's a much larger job market and opportunities in southern Indiana.”
Outbound moves: 52.1%
Jobs were by far the biggest reason to leave Indiana, at over 64%.
At a glance, the state seems like a fine place to live. Unemployment is below the national average, and according to the MERIC it’s one of the most affordable places in the country, especially when it comes to cheaper housing.
However, with a lower cost of living comes lower pay. The average worker in Indiana earns well below the national benchmark, and the minimum wage is stuck at the base rate of $7.25 per hour.
Redditor Sla963 says the tradeoff isn’t worth it.
“Your salary won't be as high as it is on the coasts, because the cost of living is low. So if you save 10% of your salary, you're not saving as much money,” they say.
“This matters because Indiana is not a tax-friendly state for retirement. Spend a bit of time googling this issue, and you'll see that Indiana is actually rated (by some financial advisors, anyway) as one of the worst states for retirement. There aren't many tax breaks for the elderly here, while there are lots of them in other states.”
Outbound moves: 52.0%
It’s not just musicians singing the blues in Mississippi.
Over 72% of the people who left last year did so for work. Unemployment remains high, at 5.7% as of December, over two percentage points higher than the national rate.
Timothy Dunaway, a Quora commenter, says many of the people who stay in Mississippi have to look elsewhere for work anyway.
“Minimum wage is the norm at most non-factory jobs. Benefits are hard to come by as well. In my county alone, most workers have to travel out of state for decent jobs,” Dunaway says.
Outbound moves: 51.9%
Known for its wheat and dairy, the “Bread and Butter State” isn’t producing quite enough dough for its residents. Jobs are again the main reason to leave.
While it’s still better than the national average, Minnesota’s unemployment rate is rising. It crept to 3.3% in December, up from 2.9% the year before.
One ever-popular complaint is the weather. To hear some Minnesotans tell it, there’s no way to beat the winters but to leave.
“It seems like no matter what I put on I'm either still freezing or so hot I'm sweating in my clothes and then I get even colder. There is no middle ground. I hate it with a passion,” says Redditor Violinagin.
Outbound moves: 51.6%
It turns out retiring by the sea isn’t for everyone.
Next to jobs, the second biggest reason to leave Maryland and its delicious blue crabs is retirement (25%). Just over half the people leaving are 55 and older.
Though there are lots of places to retire cheaply, it’s expensive to stay in Maryland. The state ranks 7th out of 52 regions on MERIC's cost-of-living index.
The cost of housing in particular is well above the nation’s average. Seniors who decide to stay, though, will be able to take advantage of Maryland’s comparatively affordable health care.
Outbound moves: 51.4%
Residents fleeing Utah are leaving behind great natural beauty, including some of the best skiing in the country.
At over 66%, the need for work dwarfs the desire for a different lifestyle, which was the next biggest reason at less than 13%.
While the state’s tech industry is thriving, accounting for one in seven jobs in Utah, that hasn’t brought prosperity to everyone.
“The housing market is going nuts with the tech companies moving in. Rent and housing are way over-inflated,” wrote TaddWinter on Reddit. “(Salt Lake City) and St. George are booming, diverse places but the rest of the state is the total opposite.”
Outbound moves: 51.2%
More than a century ago, the man behind Hershey’s chocolate chose to open his factory in Pennsylvania for its countryside beauty and bountiful farmland. He even built a town, Hershey, for his employees.
Christopher David on Quora loathes every part of the state they’ve lived in.
“My job relocated me to the Scranton area, where I made the grave mistake of purchasing a home. A very depressed and unkept area. While paying dirt-cheap taxes is a plus, the reverse of this is that there is little to no public upkeep and basic necessities, such as removal of storm damage and roadside cleanup, are nonexistent.”
Outbound moves: 51.1%
While Missouri is recognized for the world's tallest arch, these days the Gateway Arch is as much exit as entrance.
The state’s population hasn’t been growing nearly as fast as expected, with low job growth blamed for the stagnation over the past two decades. Missouri also suffers from lower rates of high school and postsecondary education compared to other states in the area, according to American Community Survey data.
Even the weather is trying to force residents out, according to an anonymous Redditor.
“We get winter storms blowing in from the northwest all winter, so it feels like you are living in Canada, and the summers are brutal, with all of July and August at 95+ degrees and 100% humidity. It sucks so bad, that it is our prime motivation to move away.”
24. (tie) Oklahoma
Outbound moves: 49.8%
Known for crops and crude, this South Central state is seeing just as many people move out as move in.
Jobs were by far the most common reason to leave at over 64%; the second most common was family at just 15%. As with many other states, Oklahoma hasn’t yet raised its minimum wage above the federal requirement of $7.25 per hour.
Jon Davis on Quora suggests Oklahoma’s reliance on its traditional industries doesn’t make it the most stable place to live.
“A terrible amount of our government spending comes from taxation of one industry: oil. We run the risk of going broke every time the oil boom/bust cycle hits its low,” says Davis.
24. (tie) Maine
Outbound moves: 49.8%
Slightly more people are moving to the country’s easternmost state than leaving it, but it’s a close shave.
In a rare exception, United Van Lines suggests the No. 1 reason for moving out of the state is family at more than 33%. Still, work was a factor for almost a quarter of the people who left.
To jumpstart its sluggish economy and lift substandard wages, Maine recently unveiled a 10-year plan focused on education, training and innovation. The state has traditionally relied on industries like farming, forestry and fishing, but the government hopes a more diverse economy will provide a better life for residents. Adapting to the needs of the future is essential, as jobs that were once great don't stay great forever.
Some say the current job prospects are so bad they have to travel long distances for minimal pay.
“Commuting 50+ miles for a $10/hr job is not unheard of. From Van Buren to Easton, for instance. I know several people who do that,” says Reddit user nomocactusnames.