People Keep Moving To Austin, But Where Are They Coming From?

May 16, 2019

For the last decade or so, Austin has been one of the fastest growing cities in the country – last year the city's population grew by about 145 people a day on average. But that number only tells part of the story. The rest of that story – the where – is a proverbial question for our ATXplained project.

So, where are these new Austinites coming from?

The conventional, anecdotal narrative of Austin’s growth would tell you the city is being overtaken by young, tech-minded Californians.

And that's true, to an extent. But the whole story is more complicated than that.

Yes, a lot of people move here from California. But there are also a lot of people here like Michael Boyd, one of the thousands of new residents who moved to Austin in the last couple of years. He says came from Florida to, he says, sort of get away.

"I wanted to move somewhere where I didn’t have anything hanging over me; I didn’t know anybody. So, I left, and I ended up moving to Texas," he said.

Yes, people are coming here from California. But it turns out tons of people are also coming here from Florida. The Sunshine State sends the second-highest number of people to Austin after California. One analysis even had it topping California a few years ago. After Florida? New York and Colorado also send a large number of people. But, that's not the only migration Austin's seen in the last couple of years.

City demographer Ryan Robinson says we’re also getting many new arrivals from overseas.

Credit City of Austin

“We receive a big flow of in-migrants from Asia," Robinson said. "Historically, that’s been India and China.”

Sindu Malathi Padmanaban is an Austinite who fits that description. She moved here 11 years ago when her husband got a job here at Dell.

“In the beginning I didn’t like it,” she said. “I had no idea how [Austinites] are, what’s the culture, what’s the food. But now, I really like it over here.”

Padmanaban is among thousands of Indian immigrants moving to the Austin area. According to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, 36 percent of Asian immigrants moving to Austin are from India. The diversification of the metropolitan area has led to its rapid growth in Travis, Williamson and Hays counties, and Robinson says Asians are the fastest growing ethnicity in the Austin metro area.

So, as evidenced with the Padmanabans, the idea that everyone is moving to Austin to work in tech is partly true, as well. It's a big reason for new arrivals, Robinson says, and it speaks to the wealth concentration in Austin over the last decade and a half.

"One of the dominant demographic stories that we're tracking is just how much more affluent we are today than we were 15 years ago," Robinson said. "And it's a direct function of our vibrant, high-tech economy." 

Still, most people in Austin still don’t end up working in tech. The service industry is also a big job-provider here. And public sector employment is as well, thanks to UT and the Texas Capitol. And then there are the people that move here and don’t work.

“Not only is our population diversifying in terms of racial and ethnic makeup, but it’s diversifying in terms of its age structure as well,” Robinson said. “You see that in percent-gain terms, it’s actually older baby boomers and seniors who are growing at the fastest rate.”

Credit City of Austin

Generally, Austin’s established narrative is that of a young, vibrant city for college students and new families. But, in recent years, the increased presence of retirees and seniors moving to the area challenges that popular assumption.

“Here a person can work a regular nine-to-five or what have you, and still be able to support a family and have time to spend with the kids,” said retired veteran Jacque Smith, who moved to the Austin area from New York. “[I]t was a slower pace and we really liked that about Austin, Texas.”

With the influx of retirees and seniors, a quarter of Austin’s population is projected to be 65 years of age or older in the next 15 years, according to Robinson.  

With so many Austin residents coming from out of state or overseas, there is no simple answer to the question where everyone is coming from. As long as Austin retains its competitive job market and remains an attractive destination for overseas workers and retirees, the Austin area, Robinson predicts, will continue to diversify and grow. 

“I don’t see the metropolitan area slowing down its population growth anytime soon."