WASHINGTON – Americans are leaving the nation's big cities in search of cheaper homes and open spaces farther out.
Nearly every large metropolitan area had more people move out than move in from 2000 to 2004, with a few exceptions in the South and Southwest, according to a report being released Thursday by the Census Bureau.
Northeasterners are moving South and West. West Coast residents are moving inland. Midwesterners are chasing better job markets. And just about everywhere, people are escaping to the outer suburbs, also known as exurbs.
"It's a case of middle-class flight, a flight for housing affordability," said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. "But it's not just white middle-class flight, it's Hispanics and blacks, too."
The Census Bureau measured domestic migration — people moving within the United States — from 1990 to 2000, and from 2000 to 2004. The report provides the number of people moving into and out of each state and the 25 largest metropolitan areas.
The states that attracted the most new residents: Florida, Arizona and Nevada. The states that lost the most: New York, California and Illinois.
Among the 25 largest metropolitan areas, 18 had more people move out than move in from 2000 to 2004. New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — the three biggest metropolitan areas — lost the most residents to domestic moves. The New York metropolitan area had a net loss of more than 210,000 residents a year from 2000 to 2004.
Richard Florida, a professor of public policy at George Mason University, said smaller, wealthier households are replacing larger families in many big metropolitan areas.
That drives up housing prices even as the population shrinks, chasing away even more members of the middle class.
"Because they are bidding up prices, they are forcing some people out to the exurbs and the fringe," Florida said. "Other people are forced to make moves in response to that. I don't have any sense of this abating."
The metropolitan area that attracted the most new residents was Riverside, Calif., which has been siphoning residents from Los Angeles for years. The Riverside area, which includes San Bernardino and Ontario, had a net gain of 81,000 people a year from 2000 to 2004.
Riverside has grown to become the 13th largest metropolitan area in the nation. It's a short drive to several mountain ranges, and it's within driving distance of the beach. Locally, it is known as the Inland Empire.
"When you look at housing prices in Southern California, along the beaches and coastlines, you're able to obtain a very large home for a much lower price" in Riverside, said Cindy Roth, president and CEO of the Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce.
Homes in Riverside aren't cheap. The median price — the point at which half cost more and half cost less — was $374,200 in 2005. But they are less expensive than Los Angeles, where the median price was $529,000.
Other areas that attracted a lot of new residents also have relatively inexpensive homes, even if they are not the cheapest in the country. Phoenix, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla., Atlanta and Dallas-Fort Worth round out the top five metropolitan areas.