In 2016, the N.J. Business & Industry Association reported the state was losing an alarming number of residents and economic activity to outmigration.
It found, for example, that over a 10-year period, 2 million residents left, reducing the state’s adjusted gross income by $18 billion and jobs by 75,000. They were partly replaced by 1.4 million residents moving in, including 596,000 immigrants from abroad.
The age group leading the exodus was the millennials. Those 18 to 34 had the largest net reduction in the NJBIA study. Updated figures show New Jersey shed 184,000 millennials from 2007 to 2016.
This loss also makes it tougher for the state to attract and keep businesses, which depend on that generation for the new skills that are already in short supply. Economist Joel Naroff, who helped NJBIA do the study, said, “It’s going to be tough to sustain, maintain and attract the kind of businesses that want to hire them.”
NJBIA set in motion an effort to do something about it and the following year held a Workforce Development Summit. From that evolved the NJBIA Post Secondary Education Task Force, with 100 members representing academia, state education and labor departments, businesses and nonprofits.
Last month the task force issued its first report with suggestions on how to keep millennials in New Jersey by better matching education programs to private-sector jobs.
Among the ideas are better promotion of higher education and career opportunities in the state; more affordable and student-friendly postsecondary education; more career and technical-education programs at all levels, especially ones connected to employers; and better career guidance, more work experiences and in-school employment services.
These are all good ideas and will help if implemented, but the challenge is daunting.
The report’s author, NJBIA Policy Analyst Nicole Sandelier, lamented that New Jersey struggles to attract and retain young millennials “despite our ideally centralized location, nationally recognized high school academics, quality higher-education institutions, and our highly educated and skilled workforce.”
Some of the factors in millennial outmigration are intrinsic. For example, even though New Jersey is the most urbanized state, it lacks the major metro area many young adults prefer. No wonder Pennsylvania and New York, with such cities right on New Jersey’s doorstep, are the No. 1 and 2 destinations for outmigration.
Then there is New Jersey’s high cost of living, which hits young people hard. But even if the state’s high taxes were reduced, other costs such as housing, auto insurance and consumer goods would remain costly (and supported by the nation’s fourth-highest median household income).
Companies probably will simply have to pay more to attract the workers they need.
The state could help with that by easing the regulatory and tax burdens on businesses so they can afford to do so.