Out-migration: Myth or reality?

Moving company United Van Lines recently published a report that drew on their customer database and concluded that New Jersey has more people moving out than any state in the country. But was it accurate? NJ Spotlight reporter Colleen O’Dea took a deep dive into the migration patterns of the state based on IRS data. Her results paint a different, more nuanced narrative. Senior Correspondent David Cruz recently sat down with her.

Cruz: So we did a story recently on this annual report by United Van Lines that talked about out-migration and said that New Jersey was number one in out-migration. And of course, one side used it as validation for their political position and the other side used it for validation of their political position. But the data that you guys have compiled is based on IRS data, which is a little more informative, yeah?

O’Dea: Yeah, so the United Van Lines Movers study was just a study of people who that company moved, either into the state or out of the state. It was a couple thousand people — it’s not really scientific.

Cruz: Terrific PR though, right?

O’Dea: Yeah, absolutely. So what we did was we looked at this IRS migration data, which is something they put out every year. And the most recent data showed us 2015 to 2016, people who file income tax returns, how they moved, and that did, though, show — it verifies, it validates all sorts of other studies that have shown that yes, we are a net exporter of folks. Not a huge number, but more people are moving out of New Jersey than are moving in.

Cruz: But a little more nuanced than that, because you can’t just say — what was it — 27,000 households, or a total of 47,000 people. Is that a lot?

O’Dea: So we have 3.2 million households, roughly, in the state so it was a couple percentage points. The IRS data doesn’t cover everyone, either. So if you don’t have to file a tax return because you don’t make enough money, then you wouldn’t be covered under that. So it’s still not a perfect number, but it gives a pretty good idea of movement both in and out of the state and within the state, which I think is kind of interesting.

Cruz: Which also highlights that generally, as always with all of these kinds of studies, that poor people generally don’t get counted in these.

O’Dea: Oh yes, absolutely. You’re absolutely right.

Cruz: Because with the Van Lines study, you know, a lot of people who are moving, either in or out, might’ve just used their cousin Vinny to help them move.

O’Dea: Absolutely, that’s true.

Cruz: From what I read, you said our population is slightly shrinking?

O’Dea: So more people are moving out, but our population is not shrinking at all. In fact, it is slightly increasing. So we’re just over 9 million people at the moment, that’s the latest estimate, and we’re up about 2 percent or so since the 2010 census. That’s mostly due to births outnumbering deaths, and we’ve got a very robust immigration number, so we’ve got a lot of people moving in from out of the country. And that almost, almost equals the number who move out of state to another state.

Cruz: Is there anything to indicate what the economic impact of that is? Are we seeing a lot of richer people leave and a lot of working class people coming in?

O’Dea: So there is some of that happening, yes. The IRS data showed that the average income — adjusted gross income — of folks moving out was about $131,000, which is a good number. There are going to be a lot of people moving into New Jersey, into the United States, who are going to have lower incomes. But we also have folks coming in who are doctors, who are engineers. So there is going to be some economic difference there, but it’s not going to be huge.

Cruz: Yeah, and so who’s leading the state in terms of growth?

O’Dea: So Hudson County is leading — it seems like we’re always talking about Hudson County leading — because it’s just booming. The waterfront is booming, Jersey City, Hoboken. You’ve got businesses coming in, you’ve got residences being built so a lot of people are moving into there. Hudson County took the most people from any out-of-state county, and that was people moving from Manhattan into Hudson County. It’s not surprising because even though, let’s say, Jersey City has gotten quite expensive, it’s still a lot cheaper than Manhattan is.

Cruz: Who’s shrinking? Is there a county that we can point to that is shrinking?

O’Dea: Lots of them, so all of your outskirt counties — Cape May, Atlantic in particular, Salem, Cumberland, and then up in the north Warren and Sussex Counties. All of those outskirt counties are just places that people don’t seem to want to live in anymore because they’re so far from everything. There’s not jobs. You’ve got to travel far.

Cruz: So you got to be either independently wealthy, or just retire to want to go to Cape May? Because Cape May sounds like a wonderful place to be.

O’Dea: I would love to live in Cape May, but yes, we would have to be independently wealthy, I think, to have one of those nice victorians.

Cruz: So in the end, who’s going to use this report of yours to justify their positions?

O’Dea: Well, it seems like so far it’s been Republicans. Every so often I see a tweet or a comment pointing to this story. But there have been some Democrats who have also looked at the part of the story that says our population is not shrinking. We are growing, unlike a state like Vermont that United Van Lines report had listed Vermont as the top state for people to want to move into. That was based on less than 300 moves. And Vermont this year, at the beginning of the year put in a new law.

Cruz: Providing incentives, right?

O’Dea: You can get $10,000 if you move to Vermont and work from home for a company that’s out of state. Crazy.