Fact-Check: Pro-Transit Ad Inflates How Many People Are Moving To Nashville | Nashville Public Radio

Fact-Check: Pro-Transit Ad Inflates How Many People Are Moving To Nashville

Apr 10, 2018

If there’s a statistic that won’t go away it’s the one about how many people move to Nashville each day.

And now a misleading version of this figure is being perpetuated by the pro-transit coalition, which leads a recent full-page ad with the statement, “80 people move to Nashville every day.”

How many people move to Nashville per day? And how many cars do they bring with them?

It’s not 100.

It’s not even 80, as the ad claims.

In fact, in recent census data, focused only on people moving (in census terms, “migration”), more people moved out of Nashville than into Nashville between July 2016 and July 2017. Nashville saw an estimated net decrease of 2,397 in that time — or 6 people per day moving away.

In contrast, the reason that Nashville’s population still grew over that time was because of the number of births.

However, newborns do not buy or drive cars.

Why This Number Persists

Journalists have tried to kill the 100-people-move-to-Nashville-every-day number. There have been at least three stories in The Tennessean since 2016 that explain the role of births. But the battle is perhaps lost to the celebrities and speech-makers who carry the 100-person torch.

The truth is that the impressive 100-per-day count is a regional figure. By counting a seven-county or 10-county region, the population has increased by about 100 people per day in some years.

However, that growth also counts births, not just moves. 

Here is a table showing factors for the Davidson County change and, below that, the Nashville Metropolitan Statistical Area, over two different periods of time.

It has not been as common for officials to reference only Davidson County's change, but it is possible to isolate it. That's where we find, in the most recent data available, the net migration decrease.

Getting An Explanation

Transit For Nashville spokesman Thomas Mulgrew explained that the ad references regional growth — that the population increases by between 66 and 105 people per day, depending on what multi-county region is examined.

While the ad in question doesn't refer to the region, that regional count is true. The region is certainly fast-growing — with potentially between 850,000 and 1.3 million more people expected by 2040, according to Metro estimates (the Davidson County increase would be more than 150,000 as part of that total).

But if such growth occurs, it won’t be solely because of moving, the newcomers won’t all have Nashville addresses and they won’t all have cars.

This map, from the Census Flow Mapper, shows that between 2011 and 2015, more Nashvillians tended to move out to the neighboring counties than into the city. (And this source does not count births.)
Credit U.S. Census Bureau

In terms of equating population to cars on the road, Transit For Nashville said it used vehicle registrations that find there are 851 cars per 1,000 people in Tennessee, and rounded down to its 80-per-day number, “to be on the safe side.”

The group indicated no intent of altering the ad for future use.