Understanding Shelby County Migration with IRS Filings

By Ryan Hanson

A recent article in the March 27th edition of the Commercial Appeal described the stagnating growth of the Memphis Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), referencing the most recent U.S. Census population numbers. 1 The Memphis MSA has had 0.2 percent growth in the last year, considerably less than that of other metros such as Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Clarksville and the State of Tennessee as a whole (see Table 1).  The Census data reflect population change that occurs due to births, deaths, and migrations.


An analysis of changes of address within annual Internal Revenue Service (IRS) filings offers an alternative method of understanding national and international migration patterns between counties in the United Sates via changes in the number of filings. Tables 2 and 3 list the total migration of IRS filings for Shelby County and the top 10 inflow and outflow counties. The IRS data tell a similar story to the Census data in regard to stagnant growth in the area. There is approximately a 1,500 filing deficit between filers moving out of the county compared to those moving in. It is still possible to have had a small increase in population since each filing can represent more than one person, as individuals can file dependents and the data does not account for births.

In regard to county-to-county movement, most of the Shelby County inflow comes from its surrounding counties. However, there is some inflow from the Chicago area in Cook County, Illinois, and from Houston in Harris County, Texas. A similar regional migration pattern exists within the outflow data with migrants moving to large population centers in Texas and Illinois.


The IRS data also contain one other important piece of information, the adjusted gross income of the migrant filings (see Table 4). This provides a way of understanding the economic impact of both inward and outward migrations. Between 2014 and 2015, Shelby County had a net decrease of $201 million of adjusted gross income. The impact of the loss of this income is spread across all business sectors of the Memphis MSA and to area households.

1 Memphis barely growing, census figures show. (n.d.). Retrieved March 28, 2017, from http://www.commercialappeal.com/story/news/2017/03/27/memphis-barely-growing-census-figures-show/99598024/