While DC residents arrive from and depart to places all over the world, most of its domestic migration is very local: Prince George’s County, Montgomery County, Arlington County, Fairfax County, and Alexandria are the top five places within the US that DC residents move to and from.

Those places make up 31 percent of where new DC residents come from, and 42 percent of where DC residents go when they move out, according to five-year estimates from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey from 2010-2014 for counties in the Washington region.

Within our interconnected metro region, what do these flows of people look like and what places are gaining or losing residents on net? The chart below shows the region by outflows of people moving from one location to another county or city in the region.

How to read the chart

Each arc on the outer edge of the circle represents the county where people moved from. The length of each arc represents the number of people who left that county to move elsewhere in the metro area (the connected arc).

Arcs are connected by ribbons. A ribbon’s thickness on each arc shows how many people left that place for the one at the other end of the ribbon. This lets us see how people flow in both directions: For instance, while roughly 10,000 people moved from DC (in gray) to Prince George’s County (in purple), only 5,000 moved in the other direction. That ribbon is purple because Prince George’s saw a net gain of residents from DC; each ribbon takes on the color of the “winner” of the net migration between the two places.

Where ribbons are beige, the data is too close to report the net flow direction. Hover over any ribbon to see the migration flow numbers.

Within the region, more residents leave DC for neighboring counties than move there

Within the region, DC saw the most residents leave for a nearby municipality between 2010 and 2014—nearly 25,000. This is particularly striking since Fairfax, Montgomery, and Prince George’s Counties all have hundreds of thousands more residents than DC. 

District residents tend to be younger and more mobile, however, so the large outpouring of DC residents to the rest of the metro area may be most reflective of the demographics of city dwellers.

Meanwhile, Prince George’s, Montgomery, Arlington, and Fairfax County each had roughly 14,000 residents leave for a neighboring jurisdiction, and over 8,000 people moved out of Alexandria.

On net, the flow of people between the Virginia counties and DC is relatively even. However, neighboring Maryland counties gained the most DC residents both overall and on net. Prince George’s in particular is a popular destination for DC residents moving out; it received nearly half of DC residents who left the city but stayed in the region.

As the DC Policy Center’s Executive Director Yesim Taylor recently showed, the top reason people move to DC from other parts of the metro area are for an easier commute (23 percent), while the top reason people leave DC for Maryland or Virginia is for cheaper or better housing (also 23 percent, based on five-year ACS estimates from 2011-2015).

While some people actually move into DC from the broader metro area for housing-related reasons (13 percent), affordable housing is clearly an important factor for why many people leave DC for neighboring areas. The popularity of Prince George’s as a destination, and its relatively low real estate prices, adds to the evidence that housing is pricing people out of the District.

This article is a part of an ongoing series of studies from the DC Policy Center.

Thumbnail: Image by the author.