WASHINGTON Thirteen years ago the band The Magnetic Fields crooned that the U.S. capital city is "the greatest place to be," in the indie love song "Washington, D.C."
Recently, a growing number of Americans are singing along as they move to the District in search of jobs, economic opportunity and cultural attractions.
In a study on migration provided exclusively to Reuters that is set to be released next month, United Van Lines found the District of Columbia tops all 50 states for the number of people moving in during 2012.
The city has held that spot for five years running, with 64 percent of the household moves in Washington coming from outside the city in 2012.
United Van Lines is the largest moving company in the country for households.
Oregon ranked second, followed by Nevada, North Carolina and South Carolina. Washington is a city that does not belong to a state, but is subject to loose control from the federal government.
"Washington, D.C., is unique because over the last five years its unemployment rate was not hit as hard by the Great Recession," said Michael Stoll, chair and professor of public policy at the University of California at Los Angeles about the study. "But I think the other thing is that the city has remade itself from the one we knew 10 to 15 years ago."
Washington has shed its reputation as the crime capital of the country, and it has developed a high technology corridor and other businesses that are both stable and hiring, said Stoll.
Also, many members of the Baby Boom generation are moving in as they retire, taking advantage of the free museums, monuments and cultural events the city has to offer, he said.
The rising popularity could yield a result also unthinkable less than two decades ago.
"D.C. will not just be a place of tourism. It will be a major economic engine, which many of us haven't thought of it as being before," Stoll said.
A U.S. Census report released on Thursday also showed the city is gaining new residents. Washington's population increased 2.15 percent between July 2011 and July 2012, a rise second only to North Dakota.
The District's population increase of 5.1 percent from 2010 to 2012 was the biggest in the country, the Census found. It had had 632,323 residents as of July 1.
The city has a large international community, largely due to the presence of foreign embassies and organizations such as the World Bank. The Census found people from other countries made up 32 percent of the net migration from 2011 to 2012.
According to a Labor Department report released on Friday, the District's unemployment rate fell in November to 8.1 percent from 10.1 percent the year before. Local political leaders point to a development boom and one of the highest median incomes in the country - $63,124 - as other draws to the city.
On a national level, Stoll said, the migration patterns show Americans are seeking economic opportunity in places where new manufacturing and technology enterprises are building up. The patterns reveal a swelling group of aging people who are retiring and looking for affordable and comfortable places to live, as well.
He added that many people who wanted to move to California, but were put off by the state's economic woes, turned their moving vans north to Oregon.
New Jersey topped states for outward moves, in 2012, the United Van Lines study showed, largely due to a shrinking factory sector. It was followed by Illinois, West Virginia, Michigan and New York.
Washington's popularity surge recently created a paradox in the city's economic success story. Last month, the Brookings Institution concluded three U.S. metropolitan areas are in economic recovery, but did not include Washington because its population burst drove down its gross domestic product on a per capita basis.
(Reporting By Lisa Lambert; Editing by Leslie Adler)