There is a lot of room to argue about the causes of NJ’s high rate of domestic outmigration. Reasonable people can disagree about what role taxes play, versus the role of high housing costs, versus the role of cold weather. Progressives can claim that capping or cutting taxes in an attempt to staunch outmigration would erode public services, and thus might harm New Jersey’s quality of life. People can also claim that NJ’s high rate of outmigration is not a problem since 50,000-70,000 immigrants a year move here.
The New Jersey Policy Perspective argues that taxes have very little to do with New Jersey’s high rate of outmigration and that outmigration is not a real problem anyway since (prior to 2018) our population was still growing. To the extent that they concede taxation has anything to do with outmigration, they say the primary culprit is New Jersey’s property tax.
Some of those claims are plausible, however, there are two realities about New Jersey’s outmigration where the New Jersey Policy Perspective crosses beyond the limit of factuality and into fiction: these myths spread by the NJPP are, first, New Jersey’s outmigration has been present for a very long time and, second, that it is condition throughout the Northeast
Here are two facts about New Jersey’s outmigration that I have seldom seen in New Jersey’s media and where the New Jersey Policy Perspectives makes untrue arguments:
*New Jersey only permanently became an outmigration state in the late 1980s, and the current high rate of outmigration only dates to the early 21st century.:
*New Jersey’s outmigration rate, which is -0.9% in 2018-19, is much higher than any other Northeastern state except New York.
The NJPP has been on its “outmigration has been forever” chant for a while. NJPP activist Sheila Reynertsen has claimed “the trend of people moving out of New Jersey is by no means a recent phenomenon” and “[outmigration is] nothing new for New Jersey. We are traditionally an outmigration state as are many northeastern states.”
NJPP president Brandon McKoy recently echoed this myth in an interview with Tom Bergeron of ROI-NJ. “You want to know, really, what the issue is: People in Jersey will talk about outmigration being an issue in New Jersey as though it’s something new — it’s not. We’ve been an outmigration state going back 50-plus years.”
The real history is that in the 1970s New Jersey flipped to having modest outbound migration, but in the early 1980s flipped again to inmigration. NJ had a small net inbound movement in the early 1980s, but in 1985-86, New Jersey had a net inbound move of 25,000 people. So the accurate claim would be “New Jersey has been an outmigration state going back 30-plus years.”
More importantly, there’s outmigration and then there’s Outmigration.
New Jersey’s level of net outmigration — which is 70,000-90,000 a year– is something that began about fifteen years ago, not fifty years. In the 1990s and early 2000s, New Jersey’s net outmigration fluctuated around 35,000 people a year. In 2001-02, NJ’s net outmigration was only 31,049.
So, the 2010s’ level of outmigration of 70,000-90,000 a year, which is what some people are concerned about, IS a recent phenomenon.
Nor were New Jersey’s outmigration ranking among states and rate as high in the past.
Whereas in 2018-19 New Jersey’s outmigration rate was 0.91% and the fifth highest in the fifty states, in the 2000-2004 period NJ’s outmigration rate was only 0.38% and was the 8th highest in the US.
In the 1990s-2005, outmigration was low enough that the media did not notice. In archival research I’ve done, when the Star-Ledger in the 1990s wrote about “outmigration,” it was in the context of college students, not the whole population or even retirees.
So, in short, outmigration in the 21st century is historically very high and cannot be dismissed with a glib wave of “it’s always been like this” because the magnitude of recent outmigration became so much higher in the last fifteen years.
It’s a Northeastern Thing?
The New Jersey Policy Perspective attempts to diminish concern about outmigration by saying it’s a Northeastern thing that New Jersey can’t avoid. Sheila Reynertsen has said “Nor is losing a few thousand households every year unique to New Jersey” and Brandon McKoy makes an even more expansive claim “This is an issue that is shared amongst our fellow Northeast neighbors. It is not unique to New Jersey alone.”
Any cursory examination of Census outmigration statistics shows that New Jersey’s outmigration is one of the highest in the United States and is the second highest in the Northeast. United Van Lines is inaccurate in that it has New Jersey as the most outbound state in the Lower 48, but New Jersey is quite close to New York State and Illinois.
Here are the states with the highest net outmigration according to the US Census.
It’s true that the Northeast, as a region, has net outmigration to the West and South, but there is a considerable amount of movement within the Northeast and Northeastern states. Northeastern states also differ in their migration ratios vis-a-vis the rest of the US. Thus not all Northeastern states have net outmigration. New Hampshire and Rhode Island have net inmigration due to suburbanization from Massachusetts.
Notice that Massachusetts is also among the ten most outbound states, but its outbound rate is only 0.5%, which is quite distant from New Jersey’s -0.91%.
I don’t know if Delaware should be considered a Northeastern state, but it also has net inmigration.
The New Jersey Policy Perspective is on honest ground when it says that New Jersey is a high-immigration state and immigration must be considered in New Jersey demographic discussions.
Prior to 2018, New Jersey’s immigration and natural population increase was enough to offset outmigration and produce population growth.
Donald Trump’s immigration policies, which took effect in 2018, cut immigration into NJ by about 20,000 a year, which then tipped New Jersey into population loss for the first time since the 1970s.
The thing is, NJ is a high-immigration state, but our immigration isn’t enough to improve our ranking compared to other states.
Without immigrants being factored in, NJ’s net outbound rate is the 5th worst among the 50 states, after Alaska, Hawaii, New York, and Illinois.
With immigration, NJ’s immigration+outmigration is still negative and is merely the 6th worst in the US, after the same states as above, plus Louisiana.
However, all states get immigrants, so even when you factor in immigration, New Jersey’s total migration rate is -0.18%, which is the 6th lowest in the United States.
It’s a plausible prediction that Joe Biden’s liberal immigration policies will usher in a large increase in immigration to New Jersey and restore population growth, but that cannot obscure the fact that there is a pre-Trump trend of New Jersey’s population growth lagging national growth by an increasingly large margin.
Whereas from the 1860s through the 1960s New Jersey grew faster than the rest of the United States in almost every decade; our growth only started to lag the United States in the 1970s.
In the 1970s, we grew at 23.9% of the US average, but from the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s we grew at approximately 50% of the US average.
However, in the 2010s, New Jersey’s growth rate (+1%) was only 16.3% of the US average. Growing at 16.3% of the national average is the worst New Jersey has ever done.
Finally, while I agree it’s likely that immigration will increase under Joe Biden, it’s likely that growth in remote working and the SALT cap will worsen outmigration.
Outmigration is about Economics and Debt
People who raise alarm at NJ’s net outmigration aren’t just worried about outmigration itself. After all, New Jersey is still the country’s most densely populated state and we are not going to become an uninhabited wasteland anytime soon.
The concern about outmigration and lagging population growth is that population growth is a proxy for economic growth, where New Jersey similarly is lagging. Indeed, New Jersey’s population growth in the 2010s is the 9th worst in the US, the exact same ranking we have for income growth.
And those who know that New Jersey is the country’s most indebted state understand that we need faster income growth to get out of our fiscal vise.
The New Jersey Policy Perspective also claims that income can rarely be taken out of New Jersey, but over 30% of NJ’s income is non-wage income that is mobile and the rise of remote working expands a way that out-migrants can take NJ-sourced income out-of-state, so yes, net outmigration does represent and cause a reduction in NJ’s income growth.
In conclusion, there are different ways to interpret outmigration and different possible solutions, but the claims that New Jersey’s high outmigration is an age-old phenomenon or we’re just like other Northeastern states are factually wrong.