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IRS Data: California More Popular with South Dakota Movers than South Dakota Is with California Movers

Governor Kristi Noem claims that the migration of nearly 2,500 Californians to South Dakota in 2021 endorses her vision of Freedom™:

Kristi Noem, tweet, 2023.05.06.
Kristi Noem, tweet, 2023.05.06.

When Kristi Noem starts citing statistics, I’m off to the races. Let’s see what the IRS migration data say about who’s seeking greener grass where.

The IRS publishes migration data for each state based on tax returns. Their data do not include folks who don’t file. While the 2020 Census shows 888K South Dakotans and 39.5M Californians, the IRS can account for only 740K South Dakotans and 31.0M Californians. In the following paragraphs, we will thus refer to percentages of populations showing up on tax returns rather than official Census populations.

According to the IRS, 2,484 Californians who appeared on federal tax returns in 2020 showed up on tax returns from South Dakota in 2021. Welcome, neighbors! Thanks for coming!

Only 815 South Dakotans who showed up on 2020 tax returns popped up as California residents on 2021 tax returns. So in 2021, every 10 South Dakotans who loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly (Hills, that is, swimming pools, movie stars) met 30 Range-Rovering Californians crossing in at Spearfish or Sioux City.

But California had 53 times more people than South Dakota in 2020. Out of 100,000 Californians, only 8.0 chose to move to South Dakota in 2021. Out of 100,000 South Dakotans, 110 chose to move to California in 2021.

Compare those CA–SD/SD–CA migrant flows to the total migration from each state. The 2,484 Californians who chose South Dakota for their new digs in 2021 were only 0.34% of the 725,000 Californians who moved out of California in 2021. The 815 South Dakotans who moved to California were 3.5% of South Dakota’s total out-migration of 23,376.

So by those numbers, California is a lot more attractive to South Dakotans than South Dakota is to Californians.

A look at the larger migration patterns further refutes Noem’s claim that South Dakota’s Freedom™ is especially attractive to Californians. 7,741 people who showed up as Californians on 2020 tax returns showed up as residents of foreign countries in 2021. 3.1 times as many Californians thought they would find more freedom and opportunity by leaving the United States than thought they would improve their lot by moving to South Dakota. For South Dakotans, that ratio was reversed: for every one South Dakotan who moved to a foreign country in 2021, 3.7 moved to California.

In addition to foreign destinations, 39 states and the District of Columbia drew more Californians than South Dakota did. California was the ninth-most popular destination for folks leaving South Dakota, behind North Dakota, Colorado, Florida, Texas, Nebraska, Arizona, Iowa, and the top destination for South Dakotans, Minnesota.

I notice another interesting difference in the percentages of movers in each state who choose to move to a different part of their state rather than moving out of state. 1.68 million Californians got the itch to move in 2021. That’s 5.4% of their 2020 population. 951K of them stayed in California. That’s 56.8% of California’s movers figuring they can still make it big (or big enough) within their beloved home state. Thus, only 2.3% of Californians decided to leave their state in 2021.

49,018 South Dakotans moved in 2021. That’s 6.62% of South Dakota’s 2020 population who decided they had to try a new place. 25.6K of those movers stayed within South Dakota. That’s 52.3% of South Dakota movers figuring they can still find what they need in South Dakota. Thus, 3.2% of South Dakotans decided they had to leave in 2021.

The majority of movers in both California and South Dakota stayed within the state in 2021. However, on percentage bases, more mobile Californians still found satisfactory homes and opportunities within their home state, while more South Dakotans could not find what they were after anywhere in the state and moved elsewhere.

Noem wants you to believe that the migration figures point to a victory of her Republican politics over California’s Democratic politics. But the data don’t show any clear political motivation for Californians’ migration. In 2021, FiveThirtyEight calculated Red/Blue ratings for each state and D.C. based on Presidential, Congressional, gubernatorial, and Legislative election results and their deviations from national averages. When I run those Red/Blue ratings against California’s out-migration to each state, my Excel spreadsheet finds a measly correlation of 0.02. On a scale of –1 to +1, 0.02 means there’s only the faintest whiff of liberal governance in the preferred new locales of people who leave California, a whiff far outweighed by family, job offers, fears of earthquakes, and other far more influential factors.

The correlation between the numbers of folks moving into South Dakota and the relative Blueness or Redness of the places those new South Dakotans left in 2021 is similarly statistically meaningless. Excel tells me the correlation is –0.01. If the political leanings of the destinations chosen by California departees matter at all, the political leanings of the homelands of South Dakota newcomers matter only half as much. And that negative sign means that the folks coming to South Dakota tend very, very slightly to come from Red states.

But the main point is not that there are tiny, tiny tendencies; the main point is that there is no clear political tendency in migration worth getting on a soapbox about. Californians are as likely to move to Democratically run states as they are to conservative heckholes. Proportionally, more Californians are content with where they are than South Dakotans are. And proportionally, more South Dakotans would rather be in California than Californians would rather be in South Dakota.


  1. larry kurtz 2023-05-07 10:30

    Mrs. Noem’s staff is about raising money from out of state and not about presenting facts to residents.

  2. larry kurtz 2023-05-07 10:36

    Actually, I love that Republicans from California are moving to South Dakota and not relocating here in the Land of Enchantment.

  3. larry kurtz 2023-05-07 10:58

    These new residents are mostly obese, white retirees from somewhere else who fled cultural diversity in their own states taking advantage of South Dakota’s regressive tax structure and are now returning in their RVs after the strings below-zero days.

    The absence of a workforce is already exhausting the housing supply West River so the costs of those often second homes is driving working slobs away.

  4. Richard Schriever 2023-05-07 11:35

    I wonder what percentage of those folks move from CA to SD are like me and at least 4 other of my family members, those who moved to CA earlier for school and work and came to SD strictly for returning to family and/or retirement?

  5. grudznick 2023-05-07 13:07

    The sort of fellows who would move fro South Dakota to California are the sort of fellows we want to move out anyway, so that is good news indeed. However we do not want more people of any ilk moving into South Dakota. Those fellows should have to stay in California or wherever they were born, just like grudznick did.

  6. grudznick 2023-05-07 13:08

    Mr. Schriever is, of course, welcome to return to his home state.

  7. Mike Zitterich 2023-05-07 18:47

    The IRS only has records of those individuals who file tax returns, if they are not filing 1040’s each year, the IRS is not privileged to any data of movement of the citizens from state to state. You would also have to track data from Department of Labor who also maintains a database of all citizens residing in each state as each state submits employment data to the Dept.

  8. O 2023-05-07 19:03

    I would also argue there is a subtle difference between moving to South Dakota and moving to Sioux Falls.

    It would also be interesting to see follow up data on how happy migrants are a year after settling in their newly chosen area.

    As to the central premise of moving to SD for “freedom,” I would expect the “freedom” most expressed is the freedom from paying a fair share of taxes to make a community nice to live in. I’m not sure Rapid City — or any other community that has had bond issues fail — can tolerate much more “freedom” before their crumbling infrastructure completely gives way under the weight of under-taxation. I will also postulate that many of these “freedom” seekers move AFTER they have enjoyed better amenities and now seek to avoid paying for others to enjoy those same amenities. I got mine — now pull up the ladder.

  9. Michelle Kalehzan 2023-05-07 19:38

    Kristi Noem sure does like to misrepresent the truth with her pick and choose statistics! As a a six generation, South Dakota, and I have always been proud of where my family came from. That said, I have lived in California, the last 35+ years where I have thrived in the bay area in my work as a psychologist. Although I have entertain the thought, many times of moving back to South Dakota, where I know there is a shortage of mental health professionals like myself, what stops me every time is Kristi Noem, and the way she operates. Every friend I have in California would tell you that I speak very highly of South Dakota, but I also express reluctance and hesitant when it comes to moving back home because I’m not sure I can deal with losing all the freedom that I have here in California. Kristi Noem is South Dakota‘s worst advertisement .

  10. Linda 2023-05-07 20:13

    I wonder how many of the “former California” residents are using one of the many mail forwarding services here in SD. If they declare their residency to be in SD, instead of CA, they don’t have to pay CA State Income Tax. Plus vehicle insurance and registration is far less expensive here. Then they can be snowbirds to which ever warmer location they prefer, in the Winter.

    Noem claims to hate the mail forwarding services, since they might skew elections with their absentee ballots. But they help her support her claim that CA folks prefer SD to CA.

  11. Mark Anderson 2023-05-07 20:15

    Why would any woman move to South Dakota for freedom. Did Kristi mean freedumb.

  12. grudznick 2023-05-07 20:56

    grudznick knows a fellow or two who moved to the Great State of South Dakota, or at least bought some property here, for the freedom that California did not provide. These fellows still love the freedom, and one even bought up some fancy Sturgis beach property, but they travel about as their means permit. I don’t think we have issues with fellows who just buy properties and then don’t really hang around that much, gobbling up resources or crowding our breakfasting joints outside of the rally, do we?

    I note nobody seems to be gravitating to Edgemont, the unheralded garden spot of which few know.

  13. David Bergan 2023-05-08 01:20

    Hi Grudznick!

    You’re wronger than wrong on this one. Preppers from all over the world are migrating to Edgemont. That’s where the saner-than-most go to avoid the rising oceans, anarchy, covids, zombies, and nukes.

    Don’t you have a luxury bunker yet?

    Kind regards,

  14. grudznick 2023-05-08 06:28

    Technically that’s not Edgemont, Mr. Bergan. That’s Igloo, and keep it on the down low so it doesn’t get crowded.

  15. P. Aitch 2023-05-08 18:47

    It’s uncertain where USA is headed but it’s quite certain California will get there first.
    – A California panel approved recommendations over the weekend that could mean hundreds of billions of dollars in payments to Black residents to address past injustices. The panel, which is made up of elected officials, academics and lawyers, produced a detailed plan for how restitution should be handled to address many racist harms, including housing discrimination, mass incarceration and unequal access to health care. But it will be up to legislators to weigh the recommendations and decide whether to forge them into law. – NYTIMES (evening edition)

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