The following Op-Ed was recently published in the Hartford Courant:
Connecticut’s sluggish economy, continued state budget crises, and increasing income and property taxes are frequently cited as causing the out-migration of residents from the state. Reports have painted a dire picture based on Census data, which indicates that Connecticut has one of the highest out-migration rates in the country among 20- to 34-year-olds. There are several problems with these arguments.
To start, it is misleading to highlight the rate at which the population is leaving the state without considering the rate at which people move into the state. The correct measure for determining whether the state is experiencing a decline in population due to migration is the net migration rate (the difference between the in-migration rate and the out-migration rate).
In that regard, commentators are generally correct in stating their concern about population loss due to migration. Based on data from the Census’s 2012-2014 American Community Survey, the annual in-migration rate to Connecticut is 20.3 people per 1,000 residents while the annual out-migration rate from Connecticut is 24.6 people per 1,000 residents, for a net migration rate of minus 4.3 people per 1,000 residents. Stated differently, for every 1,000 people in the population at the start of the year, there are 4.3 fewer residents at the end of the year. Connecticut’s net migration rate is the seventh-worst in the country.
For those considering the health of the state’s economy and its attractiveness as a place to live, however, it is more important to focus on the net migration of some key demographic groups, such as working-age professionals. This demographic group, in particular, is vital to the state economy: Their relatively high incomes drive consumer spending and support local and state governments, as employees they contribute to key industries, and they are unlikely to place a significant burden on stretched government budgets.
Fortunately, the picture when considering working-age professionals is much better than some would have us believe. For example, in Connecticut, the annual net migration rate among adults ages 30 to 59 with a graduate or professional degree is actually positive (4.0 per 1,000 residents). This fact does not support the frequent rhetoric that Connecticut’s current economic malaise is resulting in the wholesale flight of skilled workers from the state.
This last point is important to reflect upon: With a sluggish economy and increasing taxes, why aren’t working-age professionals leaving the state? This is a tough question to answer in limited space, but research suggests a few things might be at work.
Second, migrants do not just follow jobs but make complex decisions within the broader context of the particular needs of their family; decisions that involve trade-offs between potential earnings, quality of life and cost of living. When weighing these criteria, Connecticut remains attractive to working-age professionals, many of whom have partners and children. For them, the higher cost of living is apparently compensated for by higher earnings, better career opportunities, established neighborhoods, quality educational opportunities, an attractive cultural landscape and proximity to various types of amenities such as large cities, mountains, and beaches.
Although there is no denying that the state faces some significant economic hurdles in the coming years, it is wrong to imply that the state is in crisis because it is bleeding population. Indeed, the evidence shows that the state continues to remain attractive to well-educated professionals who seek a balance of quality of life, access to cultural and natural amenities, and career prospects. This speaks well of Connecticut’s future economic prospects.