Thursday, January 14, 2021

The New Jersey Policy Perspective's Fictions on Outmigration


The New Jersey Policy Perspective exists to advocate for the betterment of New Jersey's most vulnerable residents, and it isn't shy about advocating for tax increases to achieve that.  As its mission statement says, "For too long, the policies and politics of New Jersey have fallen short, failing to equitably raise the required revenue and make the public investments necessary to break down structural barriers and put prosperity within everyone’s reach."

Given that a large part of its mission is to argue for higher taxes, the New Jersey Policy Perspective has a permanent battle against the counterargument that taxes do economic damage to New Jersey by inducing people to move out of New Jersey, or avoid NJ in the first place. 

The New Jersey Policy Perspective cannot deny the fact that New Jersey is an outbound state in domestic migration, but one senses that it wants to do this.  Hence, its annual January attack on the United Van Lines survey, which shows that New Jersey is the most outbound state in the US, which the NJPP attacks for being "a joke" and "garbage." 

Yes,  United Van Lines's clientele is skewed to affluent people and the 70% outbound rate it reports for New Jersey is 10 points higher than the 60% outbound rates reported by the IRS and Census.   New Jersey's outbound rate is only the third highest in the Lower 48 and so not the absolute highest either.  United Van Lines also doesn't include the 50,000-70,000 immigrants who come to New Jersey annually, nor natural increase, which, if included, would bring New Jersey's total population growth to the 9th lowest in the US.

Contextualization of outmigration by including immigrants is important and so is pointing out UVL's data limits, however, the New Jersey Policy Perspective errs by asserting that New Jersey's outmigration is something with a long history and equating our level of outmigration to other Northeastern states. 


In a recent interview with Tom Bergeron of ROI-NJ about outmigration, the president of the New Jersey Policy Perspective, Brandon McKoy, made factually wrong claims that NJ's outmigration is "not unique" and "goes back 50 plus years."

Myth 1:  New Jersey's Outmigration Situation is 50-Plus years Old:

  • “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."
    • Reality: NJ's permanent outmigration began in the 1980s, and we have only had high outmigration since 2005.
Myth 2:  New Jersey is Like Other Northeastern States
  • “This is an issue that is shared amongst our fellow Northeast neighbors. It is not unique to New Jersey alone.”
    • Reality: NJ's net outmigration is higher than any Northeastern state other than New York, and three Northeastern states, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania have inmigration.

And a claim about immigration that factually true but incomplete and will require the longest section of this post to unpack.

Immigrants Make Up for People Leaving

  • “Traditionally, we have stemmed outmigration by enjoying and attracting a lot of international immigrants,” he said. “That’s obviously taken a major hit under the (President Donald) Trump administration because of its immigration policies. Hopefully, under this new administration, we’ll get back to where we were.”

I agree that the United Van Lines survey is overcovered and not a comprehensive measure of NJ's growth because it doesn't include immigration and natural increase, but even when you do include every factor, what it comes down to is that the 2010s were the slowest decade of growth in New Jersey history both in terms of its own population increase and increase compared to the rest of the US.  Ever.

New Jersey PopulationNJ Population Growth Over Previous DecadeUnited States PopulationUS Pop. Growth Over Previous DecadeNJ's Growth as a Percentage of Nat'l Growth
2019 (est.)8,882,1901.0%328,239,5236.3%16.3%

Even in absolute terms, the 90,000 population increase is the smallest increase NJ has had since the 1830s, when NJ's population was under 400,000.  

FYI. See the bottom of this post for data starting in 1790.


Myth One: Fifty Plus Years:

  • “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."

McKoy may have been snowed by his fellow NJPP activist, Sheila Reynsertsen, who has claimed in other NJPP reports, "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."

First, this may be pedantic, but New Jersey permanently became a net outmigration state starting in the late 1980s, not the 1970s. Does something that only began in the 1980s count as "traditional," I wouldn't call it that.

The real history is that in the 1970s New Jersey had modest outbound migration, but in the early 1980s it flipped to inmigration again.  NJ had a small net inbound movement in the early 1980s, and 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 current level of net outmigration - which is 70,000-90,000 (-0.9%) a year- is something that began about fifteen years ago; it isn't something that goes back fifty years.  In the 1990s and early 2000s, New Jersey's net outmigration fluctuated around -35,000 people a year.

So, the 2010s' level of outmigration, which is what people are concerned about, IS a recent phenomenon.

Source, Brookings, US Census:

There are some discrepancies between different Census documents, but in the 1990s, New Jersey's net outmigration averaged -39,507 people per year, a rate of -0.5%.  From 2000-2004, New Jersey's outmigration was also below 40,000 a year, and was low as -31,049. 

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 is 0.93% 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 newspapers in the 1990s wrote about "outmigration," it was in reference to college students, not the whole population, or even retirees.  

So, outmigration existed in the 1970s and became (seemingly) permanent 1990s, but was at a much lower scale than today and was easily outweighed by NJ's natural increase and immigration until the early 2000s. 

Although it's good that McKoy is saying outmigration only goes back 50 years, and thus acknowledging that in the lifetime of many people alive today, New Jersey was an in-migration state, but there has been a substantial shift in outmigration in the 21st century that means it cannot just be dismissed with a glib wave "it's always been like this" because the magnitude of recent outmigration became so much higher in the last fifteen years.

2.  It's a Northeastern Thing

  • “This is an issue that is shared amongst our fellow Northeast neighbors. It is not unique to New Jersey alone.”

This is also an echo from Reynertsen, "Nor is losing a few thousand households every year unique to New Jersey. "  

Any actual, cursory examination of 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 and within striking distance of #1 or #2. 

Referring to the entire United States, New Jersey's outbound percentage is #5.

Outmigrants as a Percentage of Population, 2018-19
New Mexico-0.76%
New Jersey-0.91%
New York-0.96%
Note, Hawaii and Alaska are not included in UVL's survey.  I am including them for informational purposes. Hawaii and Alaska's net outmigration fluctuates more than the other high-outmigration states.  My opinion is that it only makes sense to compare to New Jersey to other states with diversified economies that are part of the continental US.

I don't know what McKoy means by "unique," but NJ's only peers in outmigration are New York State and Illinois.  In the recent past, Connecticut had equaled New Jersey in outmigration, although its outmigration rate has receded in recent years.  

3.  Immigration

Having a immigration rate is both a cause and an effect of having high outmigration.

  • It's a cause in that New Jersey is a "landing pad" state for immigrants who can then leave for other states when they are more established in the US.  When an immigrant arrives in NJ, he or she isn't included in inmigration, but when he or she leaves, he or she is included in outmigration.
  • It's an effect of high outmigration in that the departure of working New Jerseyans creates job openings that can be filled by immigrants, ie, a backfill effect.

Some states, like Texas and Florida have both high inmigration and high immigration, so NJ still has a population retention problem, but I think there is some connection between high outmigration and high immigration.  

McKoy is correct that New Jersey attracts many immigrants and, prior to Donald Trump's presidency, immigration combined with natural increase, was enough to backfill the outmigration losses and give New Jersey a low level of population growth.

This is the data on immigration to New Jersey starting from 2005.  

Had New Jersey sustained the peak level of immigration it had in 2017, our population growth would have been positive in 2018 and 2019.  

It is also true that New Jersey is a high-immigration state.  In 2018-19, New Jersey's 64,167 immigrants were 0.73% of our population, the 9th highest immigration rate in the US.  

However, even if you include immigrations in population movement numbers, New Jersey's population would decline absent natural increase, so immigrants alone do not only backfill departures.  The reason NJ's population did not drop before 2018 is that natural increase is +24,000 year year.

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.

Put it all together, and New Jersey's population growth was the 9th lowest in the US in the 2010s and so was its income growth

New Jersey's Media Gives the NJPP a Pass when it Comes to Facts and Accuracy 

I took the time to research and write this post not only because what McKoy said about historical and comparative outmigration was erroneous, but because ROI-NJ did not correct McKoy and introduced him as someone who usually states "[his] views with facts and figures," as if McKoy's statements on outmigration had to be correct.  That's just one of many examples I've seen of NJ Policy Perspective activists being treated as authoritative experts, when they only being ideologues who are making claims they haven't fact-checked.

Certainly the fact of NJ's outmigration has been used in places it shouldn't, like regarding tax policies that affect only the rich, ie as a justification to eliminate the estate tax and not raise the top bracket to 10.75%.  It's highly likely that high property taxes induce more New Jerseyans to move than high income taxes.  High housing costs must also play a role in outmigration too.

There is a lot of room to argue about the causes of NJ's outmigration and if cutting taxes in an attempt to stanch outmigration might produce large negatives, which are arguments that the New Jersey Policy Perspective does make.

However, none of this changes the reality that
  1. New Jersey's high rate of net outmigration is a recent phenomenon, and our current phase of outmigration dates to the late 1980s.

  2. NJ's net outmigration is much higher than most other Northeastern states. 


See Also:


New Jersey PopulationPopulation Growth Over Previous DecadeUnited States PopulationPopulation Growth Over Previous DecadeNJ's Growth as a Percentage of Nat'l Growth
2019 (est.)8,882,1901.0%328,239,5236.3%16.3%

Note on Projections from 2000:

Note.  New Jersey's population grew by 447,000 in the 1990s, to 8.2 million.  Based on trends at the time, the state's official demographic projection made at the turn of the 21st century for our 2015 population was 9 million, which we missed by 113,000, or 13%.