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Coming and Going

You can tell a lot about what a community has to offer by the types of people who are moving in and the types who choose to leave.

Whether an area attracts or loses residents of a certain age group, race or gender says something about the opportunities and amenities you’ll find there, points out Katherine Curtis, a CALS/UW-Extension professor of community and environmental sociology.

Curtis, a researcher at the CALS-based Applied Population Laboratory (APL), is part of a multistate team that has developed new estimates of net migration—the difference between residents moving in and out—for every U.S. county from 2000 to 2010. The estimates are broken down by age, sex and race. Combined with similar estimates from previous decades, the new numbers offer a chance to make decade-by-decade comparisons of migration by age group from 1950 to present.

Those 60 years’ worth of estimates are available online at www.netmigration.wisc.edu, where users can graph, map and compare migration trends for counties across the nation. The site was created by APL web developer Jim Beaudoin.

“Examining net migration trends helps tell stories of regional and community character and social change,” says APL director Dan Veroff.

For example, Kenosha County’s migration signature shows the shift from manufacturing (an influx of people in their 20s) to rust belt decline (a net loss in the same age group) to suburban (a big gain of people in their 30s) as the area went through auto manufacturing’s boom and bust, then became home to people commuting to Chicago-area jobs.

At the opposite end of the state, net migration in Burnett and Vilas counties is sharply negative for people in their 20s—an exodus typical in remote rural areas—and highest for those in their 60s, as retirees settle to enjoy the lakes and forests. As a result, these counties have some of the state’s fastest-aging populations.

“When we see how these things line up over time we can get a glimpse of the future as well,” Veroff says. “This is useful for people who need to plan for providing services. It can show if a certain population is going to be stable, or decline or increase. School districts, for example, can use it to project enrollment trends.”

While net migration data has been available in the past, it used to require the skills and tools of a demographer to tease it out of large and complicated datasets. The new website eliminates that barrier, Veroff notes.

“One of our goals is to democratize data,” he says. “This effort fits squarely in that realm—making useful data available and easy to use for people in many different positions.”