Kansas exports more residents to Texas and Oklahoma than any other state, while California and Michigan are the biggest sources of people moving into the state, a new federal report shows.
When Sedgwick County residents leave home, the report says, they’re most likely headed for Butler or Johnson county. But five counties in Texas are among the top eight destinations for Wichita-area residents leaving the county.
Those are some of the findings of an Internal Revenue Service report released last month that shows what many Kansans have known for decades: In any given year, the number of people moving out of Kansas will likely exceed the number of people moving in.
Although the IRS annual reports usually generate little interest outside academic circles, the latest figures could take additional meaning this year because of the role they may play in shaping Kansas tax policy.
Gov. Sam Brownback has been citing the IRS migration figures in recent weeks as he’s argued for the need to reduce state income taxes.
Kansas Secretary of Revenue Nick Jordan said the concept is simple: States that have no income tax – Texas, Florida, Nevada and Washington, for example – are net importers of residents. States with high tax rates, he argues, are net exporters.
It’s not that people move to those states to avoid paying taxes, he said. It’s that no-tax policies promote job growth, and the jobs lure new residents.
“Where the jobs go, the people go,” he said.
The Brownback administration has noted that three of the states that abut Kansas – Oklahoma, Missouri and Colorado – import more people from Kansas than they export. They say it’s no coincidence that Nebraska, the only state that exports people to Kansas, is the only one with a higher income tax rate.
Not everyone follows the logic.
“It’s a spurious argument,” Kansas Democratic Party Chairwoman Joan Wagnon said of the notion that a lower tax rate will translate into jobs. “We haven’t seen any evidence that it does. … It just isn’t going to work.”
Cutting income taxes, in fact, could have the opposite effect, Wagnon said.
“We will have less money to spend on schools, and as the schools begin to slowly starve from a lack of funding, we’ll have a less educated workforce.”
Without qualified workers, she said, companies will look elsewhere when they decide to expand.
The migration figures
U.S. Census Bureau reports show that Kansas’ population has steadily increased in recent years despite the net outmigration of people. That’s because the number of births in the state consistently outpaces the number of deaths.
But the outward migration has meant that Kansas has been growing at a slower pace than the rest of the country. The state lost one of its five Congressional seats after the 1990 Census – not because of a shrinking population but because the state wasn’t growing as fast as the rest of the country.
On a local level, the figures show that Sedgwick County, too, is usually a net exporter of people. From 2000 through 2010, the figures show, the county showed a migration gain only three times – in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Those were years in which the aircraft industry was thriving and there was a high demand for workers.
The county consistently shows net gains from foreign and in-state migration, but it’s usually not enough to make up for the number of Sedgwick County residents leaving the state.
From 2000 through 2010, the figures show, Sedgwick County was a net importer of people from most Kansas counties, with Reno, Cowley and Ford counties providing the biggest supply of new residents. But Sedgwick County exported more people to Butler and Johnson counties than it took in from the top six exporting Kansas counties combined.
The IRS does not report county-level migration figures when fewer than 10 people move into or out of a county. Its population estimates come from the number of exemptions claimed on federal income tax returns.
The IRS said Kansas last year imported residents from all 50 states, including 50 from Vermont and 53 from Rhode Island. Kansas also sent people to all 50 states, including 23 who moved to Vermont and 46 who went to Rhode Island.
At the other end of the scale, the state sent 15,833 residents to Missouri last year, 9,176 to Texas and 5,344 to Oklahoma. A the same time, Kansas attracted 15,725 residents from Missouri, 7,367 residents from Texas and 4,616 residents from Oklahoma.
Jeremy Hill, the director of Wichita State University’s Center for Economic Development and Business Research, said migration patterns are driven by two factors – perception of an area and the number of available jobs. Of the two, he said, jobs are the most important.
For the past two decades, Hill said, perception has prompted Americans to migrate toward the mountains and the coasts. But he said current economic conditions suggest that could change in coming years as Americans seek a lifestyle that includes affordable housing and Midwestern values.
Hill said Sedgwick County has historically been an importer of people from foreign countries, though that population is limited by immigration laws. It also has consistently attracted Kansans from other parts of the state.
“We have no problem attracting people from western Kansas and other parts of the state,” he said. “We also don’t have much problem attracting international people. We do have a hard time attracting people from the rest of the United States.”