Public policy discussions in Connecticut place considerable significance on the number of people moving into and out of the state, the degree to which the state is experiencing an “exodus” of people, and the role of income taxes, state employee benefits, and pension obligations on perceived migration trends. The primary source of data for these debates has been the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). But ACS data only go back to 2006. There is a better source for understanding long-term trends in Connecticut migration. For decades the US Census Bureau’s Housing and Population Estimates Program has issued annual data on the demographic components of population change (births, deaths, and migration) for states and counties.
The following graphic presents annual net migration estimates for Connecticut from 1981 to 2019. These yearly numbers fall neatly into four periods:
- 1981-1987: Moderate population growth due to migration (an average of 4,758 more people moved into the state each year than left);
- 1987-1999: A very long period of significant population loss due to migration (an average of 14,510 more people left the state each year than moved in);
- 2000-2011: Positive net migration with an average of 1,671 more in- than out-migrants each year; and
- 2012-2019: The number of people moving out exceeded the number of people moving in by an average of 8,418 per year.
These data add nuance to Connecticut’s migration narrative. First, these net migration values are very small relative to a population of around 3.5 million. Net migration has fluctuated within a very narrow range over the last 40 years, from -32,939 in 1991 to +10,939 in 2003. As a migration scholar who has researched US migration for 30 years, I find these levels, yearly fluctuations, and trends to be unremarkable. Second, after the income tax was established in 1991, net migration steadily improved from its low of -32,939 in 1991 to its high of +10.939 in 2003. Third, there have been several income tax increases since 2003, during which net migration eventually moved into negative territory. However, these more recent declines also occurred in the shadow of the Great Recession from which Connecticut has never fully recovered. Furthermore, the reduction in net migration over the last eight years has stabilized at very low levels and has never reached the levels which existed before the income tax was first established in 1991.