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Breaking Down the 2022 Population Estimates: What Drove Tennessee’s Big Gain Last Year?

The state added 83,000 residents in 2022 on the back of record levels of domestic net migration.

As far as Tennessee’s population gains go, 2022 was a big year. The state saw its largest one-year population increase since 2007 and surpassed seven million residents.

New estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau in December showed the state’s population in 2022 grew by 1.2 percent after logging a 0.6 percent increase in 2021. (Table 1)

Most of last year’s 83,000-person increase came from people moving into the area from other states. According to the release, 81,646 more people moved into Tennessee than moved out of it. An additional 8,000 new residents were netted from international sources.

That total net migration increase of nearly 90,000 people offset a natural population decrease—9,200 more deaths than births—that occurred over the period.

The 2022 data cover the period from July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022.

Table 1:  Tennessee’s Component of Population Change in 2021 and 2022
2021 2022
Population 6,968,351 7,051,339
Births 79,271 81,970
Deaths -89,362 -91,183
International Migration 3,113 8,096
Domestic Migration 50,450 81,646
Net 1-Year Change 42,732 (0.6%) 82,988 1.2(%)

Source: Vintage 2022 Population Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau, 2022.

Net Domestic Migration Reaches All-Time High in 2022

The 2022 net domestic migration number was likely the highest single-year total in the state’s history, eclipsing previous highs in 1994 and 2006. (Figure 1)

In fact, it has climbed steadily since 2013, when domestic migration slowed to just 13,400 new residents. That rise also included pushing through a brief recession in early 2020—another unusual occurrence.

Filled line chart showing Tennessee net domestic net migration trend from 1991 through 2022.

Figure 1:  The difference between the number of people moving into and out of the state reached a record high in 2022. Net domestic migration is cyclical and often peaks in strong economic times. Recessionary periods, shown as gray vertical bars, are often associated with slower state-to-state migration in the United States.

Research has shown migration to be pro-cyclical—that it ebbs and flows with the overall state of the economy. People relocate at higher rates during good economic times—often for employment opportunities. However, in slower economic periods—such as the Great Recession between 2007 and 2009—migration contracts.

That makes it difficult to estimate how long 2022’s elevated domestic migration rate will be sustained and compounds the challenge of projecting the state’s population.

Southern US Sizzles in Latest Numbers

Tennessee wasn’t the only southern state with sizeable domestic migration gains last year. Five other states—the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida and Texas—all had population growth in excess of one percent in 2022 and domestic migration exceeding 81,000 people.

In a trend that’s accelerated sharply since its beginning in 2019, the South region of the U.S. was the only area of the country that added population from domestic migration. (Figure 2)

Column chart showing net domestic migration for U.S. regions in 2021 and 2022.

Figure 2:  In both 2021 and 2022, the south region gained population from other part of the U.S.

That’s led to both the Northeast and Midwest regions of the country recording outright population losses in both 2021 and 2022. In these areas, most states experienced negative net domestic migration and rising deaths.
The West region has continued to gain population in spite of California’s net loss of 345,000 people to other states—the largest overall loss last year. (Figure 3)

Map of U.S. states showing net domestic migration from 2021 to 2022.

Figure 3:  24 states and the District of Columbia had negative net domestic migration in 2022. This was true for two-thirds of states in the Midwest and Northeast region of the county.

More People Moving in or Fewer People Moving Out of Tennessee?

Are more people moving into Tennessee or are fewer people moving away from the state? Both instances could have played a part in pushing the state’s record net migration number higher last year.

The Census Bureau’s population estimates do not include data on the flow of domestic migrants into and out of the state, so it’s difficult to say conclusively at this point. However, other mobility-focused surveys can help shed light on what may have transpired in 2022.

The data show more people moved into the South region last year; it also saw more people moving out. The estimated numbers were 0.8 million outbound moves and 1.1 million inbound. A trend of increased movements in both directions has been present for the past several years. (Figure 4)

Line chart showing flow of domestic migrants in and out of south region of the U.S. according to the current population survey.

Figure 4:  Moves into and out of the South region of the U.S. have ridden a steady downward trend for more than 30 years. Because the number of people moving out of the South region has slowed more sharply than the number of people moving in, the net domestic migration trend remained level.

Over the past three decades, the same survey also showed both in-migration to the Southern U.S. and outmigration from the region have slowed. That trend is indicative of a larger decline in the rate of moves. By 2021, just 8.4 percent of people lived in a different residence than the prior year—down from 20 percent in 1985.

It’s also important to note the rate of moving out of the South region has shown more slowing than the rate of people moving in. Remarkably, that difference has left the region’s net migration on a level trend for more than 30 years.

A more definitive answer about how Tennessee fared specifically will come with some forthcoming data releases. The September of the 2022 American Community Survey and 2025 (est.) release of Internal Revenue Service migration statistics will both support state-level measurement of inbound and outbound flows.

On March 28, 2023, county-level estimates of 2022 population, births, deaths and net migration are planned for release. That data will show how gains in 2021 and 2022 were distributed across Tennessee.