New Jersey became the state most often left behind in this month’s United Van Lines report on which states its customers are exiting and heading for. The long-running survey found twice as many N.J. residents outbound and inbound people from other states.

About a third of those leaving said they were moving for a job, and another third were leaving for retirement.

Outmigration has become a hot-button economic and political issue. The mover’s report aligns with studies by the N.J. Business & Industry Association, including one last year that found the state lost $25 billion in adjusted gross income from 2004 to 2016 because of outmigration.

Senate President Steve Sweeney said the 42nd Annual Movers Study underscored the need for fiscal reforms to make New Jersey more affordable and attract investment that will bring in or retain workers and their families. “We need to make New Jersey a place where current residents choose to stay, where young people can have a future, and where businesses and people from other states want to move to,” he said.

Others rightly questioned the validity of the United Van Lines survey because of the very small number of state residents moving that it tracked — just 4,400. Then a more substantial analysis this month by NJ Spotlight of Internal Revenue Service data confirmed the magnitude of the outmigration problem, especially here in South Jersey.

From 2015 to 2016, the IRS filings showed, New Jersey lost 27,000 households — 220,000 moved out of the state, while 193,000 moved in.

The households leaving had an average adjusted gross income of about $131,000 each, for a total of $3.5 billion for those leaving.

The outmigration occurred unevenly, with more from the southern part of the state than the north.

Hudson was the only county that had more people move in from outside the state, and just barely — 51 percent arriving instead of leaving. There the great expense of living in New Jersey is outweighed by the even greater cost to live in adjacent Manhattan, so 3,051 households moved across the Hudson River.

Atlantic County, in contrast, had the state’s largest outmigration loss, with 3,474 more households leaving the state than coming to the county. Of interstate moves to and from the county, 68 percent were exiting the Garden State.

Ocean County contributed 1,400 households to the state’s outmigration, but managed to gain 687 households overall thanks mainly to people within New Jersey moving to its over-55 and retirement communities.

And despite New Jersey being the top state to leave, it still gained 0.3 percent in overall population because the flow of foreign immigrants into the state nearly matched the outflow of residents, and births slightly outnumbered deaths.

Taxes, regulation and ineffective state spending are undermining the New Jersey economy, compelling residents to find work in better-functioning states. High and ever increasing taxes are a factor for retirees looking for the best quality of life their diminished incomes can afford.

Outmigration sets up a vicious cycle for the state. People and businesses leave, economic activity drops and tax revenue diminishes — leaving state government to increase the burden on those remaining to get the same amount of revenue, which encourages more to leave.

State leaders must address their spending, tax and debt problems before the rush to leave gets worse.

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