It’s a familiar story: Residents, sick of the cost of living, pick up and flee New Jersey.
Now, one moving company is saying it helped a higher percentage of people in New Jersey do just that than in any other state in 2018.
United Van Lines’ annual study of migration patterns among customers found that, of the more than 4,400 New Jersey residents who made an interstate move with the company last year, two-thirds left the state, rather than arrived here.
It doesn’t mean we’re shrinking: The state’s population grew 0.22 percent from 2017 to 2018, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by New Jersey Future, a nonprofit political advocacy group. And New Jersey remains the most densely populated state in the country.
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But it’s another data point in the long-running conversation about a slow exodus from the state. The Census Bureau found 61 percent of the state’s interstate moves were outbound last year, according to Michael Stoll, a professor and researcher at UCLA who worked with United Van Lines to analyze the survey.
New Jersey has been in the top 10 for outbound moves for the past 10 years, United Van Lines says, moving into first place this year.
“The cost of living in New Jersey, the highest-taxed state in the country … That’s the main reason why,” said Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson. “You can’t do anything about the weather, but you can most certainly do something about the property tax.”
The state’s population stalling has been a headline for years. New Jersey ranks 39th in population growth from 2010 to 2018, growing 1.33 percent in that time, according to New Jersey Future. The state grew 4.3 percent over the previous decade.
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More than 34 percent of outbound customers last year told United Van Lines they were moving for a job. And more than 34 percent said they were leaving for retirement.
“Older folks are on fixed incomes, and consequently they need to stretch their dollars as far as they possibly can,” Levinson said.
Affecting many retirees’ decision to leave the state is the fact they can sell their home here and buy an equivalent home for less elsewhere with lower property taxes, said James Hughes, a professor at Rutgers University and dean emeritus of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.
Hughes said he’s been following the issue for 15 years.
Some experts say there is an issue with the study’s limited pool of responses. Stoll said people using a professional company to move are more likely to be professionals with higher incomes but called the study a “good approximation,” noting the company’s figure came within five points of the Census Bureau’s.
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Hughes said the United Van Lines study doesn’t account for people arriving in the state from abroad, and domestically, those who aren’t bringing as many personal items with them and aren’t in need of a moving company.
Regardless, the fact remains that corporations uproot from New Jersey in search of lower taxes and an affordable workforce, Hughes said. And workers follow suit.
“Another factor is New Jersey has had slow job growth and the like. Outside of New York City and Boston, most of the Northeast and Midwest also have experienced slower job growth,” Hughes said. “So economic opportunity really lies in the South and the West … and corporations tend to be moving to those destinations.”
For states with the largest inbound populations, Vermont ranked first. The rest are in the South and West. Hughes cited Mercedes-Benz’s decision in 2015 to move its U.S. headquarters from Montvale, Bergen County, to Georgia.
And those companies drawing workers away from New Jersey has an effect on the state’s coffers.
In a 2018 report, the New Jersey Business and Industry Association said, after researching census and tax return data, that the state lost $24.9 billion in adjusted gross income between 2004 and 2016.
After residents left, the “people (who) came in behind them, they did not make up the difference in that loss of money from the state of New Jersey,” said Michele Siekerka, president of the NJBIA.
“If you take that money and think about the void that it creates in our general fund and think about all the challenges we have in funding our priorities here in the state of New Jersey, you can understand why we have a budget crisis every year,” she said.
Among the other major losses to outbound migration, according to Siekerka, is millennials.
One million millennials migrated out of the state between 2007 and 2016, she said, and 58 percent were between 18 and 24 years old. Only 866,000 millennials moved here in that time, she said.
“We absolutely are losing that population,” she said.
It’s not all bad for New Jersey, though. Hughes said towns in New Jersey with access to commuter rail often attract older millennials in Philadelphia and New York City looking to start and raise a family.
“It’s hard to live in a shoe box if you have two kids,” Hughes said. “You need some outdoor space.”