New Jersey’s young adults move out of state today at about the same rate as they have throughout the century and they leave at roughly the same rate as young people in nearby high-cost states, indications that the state does not have a problem with millennial flight, a new report shows.
Young people cite the high cost of housing as well as problems with transportation and infrastructure as their biggest gripes about the state. This matches up well with other New Jerseyans. That’s why the report recommends that state lawmakers and policymakers consider these issues as priorities as they try to solve some of the state’s toughest problems. The report was written by a group of Rutgers University graduate students for New Jersey Policy Perspective, a Trenton-based progressive think tank.
“There is no crisis here, it’s not that people are fleeing the state,” said Cliff Zukin, a professor of public policy and political science at Rutgers’ Edward J. Bloustein School for Planning and Public Policy and Eagleton Institute of Politics who served as adviser to the project. “There’s always a churn of young people move in and out of state.”
But ‘stark increase’ in departure of college-age students
The report did chart one significant difference in millennial outmigration among college-age adults age 18-22. New Jersey has long been one of the top five states sending the most students out of state to college. But the percentage of college-age students leaving the state has more than doubled between 2004 and 2016, to 11.6 percent, which Evan Friscia, one of the grad students who authored the report, called “a pretty stark increase.”
The report notes that millennials are carrying greater amounts of student debt than ever before and NJPP has been arguing for an increase in state support for public colleges, which has declined steadily over the last quarter century and dropped 21 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars since the Great Recession of 2007-2009.
Zukin also noted that more young adults are living at home in New Jersey than in any other state and that has been increasing, which “certainly points to a housing problem.”
Two recent reports found millennials leaving the state at a higher rate than any other age group and that the number of young adults in the state has declined since 2000. These reports have concerned businesses, higher-education officials and others, particularly because the millennials are the current and future workforce needed to replace the baby boomers who continue to age into retirement. Authors of these reports stand by their conclusions that New Jersey is losing highly mobile, educated students and workforce.
“One report that was released created a lot of buzz, that younger New Jerseyans are fleeing the state, and we took that question and said that’s not really the right question,” said Zukin. “Young people are always more mobile and the millennials are the largest group and so, yes, of course, more of them are going to leave.”
Allaying concerns about employment pool
Zukin said the important questions are whether young adults are leaving the state more than in the past and does New Jersey lose more young adults than other states do. The answer to both those questions is no. That should allay concerns that New Jersey might not have a robust employment pool, but at the same time points out those problem areas that make the state less attractive to young adults.
“This report concludes that the story of New Jersey Millennials is one of stability,” states the introduction to the report. “Millennials in New Jersey have not deviated substantially in their migratory patterns or their attitudes towards the state of New Jersey when compared to older cohorts during the times” when they were young adults.
The report shows that while young adults age 18-38 move out of New Jersey at a greater rate than older adults and baby boomers, many of whom have reached retirement age, that pattern has not changed substantially since 2004. In 2016, about 6.1 percent of young people who are roughly considered part of the millennial generation left the state, compared with 6.5 percent in 2012 and 4.9 percent in 2004. Going back to 1983, the report found no statistically significant differences in the rate that Generation X — those born between 1965 and 1980 by one definition — moved out of state than millennials do today.
Young adults have been moving into New Jersey from other states this century at almost the same rate as those moving out, the report found, noting, “The data show that roughly speaking, the number of Millennials entering and leaving the state is about the same.”
Comparable to other high-cost states
And the outmigration of young adults in New Jersey is comparable to that of other high-cost states on the east coast: About 7 percent of young adults moved out of Connecticut in 2016, 6 percent left New Jersey and Massachusetts, and 5 percent moved out of New York and Pennsylvania.
The report also looked at more than three decades’ worth of public-opinion polling done by Rutgers’ Eagleton Institute on how New Jerseyans rate the state and what they see as its strengths and weaknesses.
Adults age 18-39 and those 40-61 have given the state virtually identical ratings over time, with their highest opinions coming in 1988 and 2001 and their lowest in 2010, during the recession. Similarly they stated they planned to move out of New Jersey at almost identical rates, as well.
“Millennials face the same problems that are commonly ascribed to all New Jersey residents,” the report states. “They are concerned about rising property taxes, transportation infrastructure, and the high cost of living in the state, but are at a point in the life cycle that makes these problems more acute.”
Brandon McKoy, director of government and public affairs at NJPP, said the report confirms some of the problems well-known in New Jersey, where state investments in higher education and housing have dropped, leading to problems with high student debt and young adults being forced to live with their parents. These should inform state policy decisions and investments.
Disproving some ‘misleading stereotypes’
“This report helps disprove some of the misleading stereotypes about the Millennial generation,” McKoy said. “Despite claims to the contrary, millennials are not fleeing the state, and they behave just like other New Jerseyans. Like young adults of previous generations, millennials need homes they can afford, high-paying jobs, and reliable transportation. Policymakers would be wise to prioritize investments in these areas.”
The groups that released those earlier reports say they stand by their respective works.
“Make no mistake that New Jersey is bleeding the next generation of its workforce with the outmigration of high school students to institutions outside of the state,” said Michele Siekerka, president and CEO of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. “In the fall of 2016 alone, New Jersey experienced a net loss of 27,518 degree-seeking undergraduates to other states,” which she termed “the worst in the country by a wide margin.” Siekerka said an NJBIA task force recently recommended a number of strategies for “retaining and attracting our future workforce.”
“My data indicate that Millennials ARE fleeing New Jersey … the Bloustein study doesn’t actually contradict that statement,” wrote Tim Evans, who authored a report for New Jersey Future that looked at the number of young adults leaving the state between 2000 and 2013, in an emailed comment on the new report. “In fact, there were a few data points in their report that reinforced what I and others have found. The idea that Millennials leave NJ because they can’t afford to live on their own is also very, very consistent with the fact that NJ has the highest rate of young adults still living with their parents of any state in the US, and that the rate is highest in the counties with the least-diverse housing stocks.”