Middle class flight on the rise

BOSTON — December 4, 2003 — An increasing number of native-born Massachusetts residents are leaving their home state for other New England states, while smaller numbers of highly educated, highly mobile young professionals are arriving, according to a new study released today by MassINC. The report, Mass.Migration, is a joint project of MassINC and the UMass Donahue Institute, which was underwritten by MassHousing.

“What we’re seeing is a growing exodus of middle class families,” said Ian Bowles, executive director of MassINC. “These are people who have strong roots in Massachusetts, but are forced to move across the border to afford their standard of living.”

Using 2000 Census and I.R.S. data, Mass.Migration reveals a rapidly accelerating trend over the last five years of Massachusetts residents leaving for other New England states. In 1997-98, Massachusetts lost, on net, 3,214 people to neighboring states; in 2001-02, that number had jumped nearly 400% to 15,811. In every year over the last 12 years, Massachusetts lost more people to other New England states, registering a net loss of 79,031 residents.

Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of these movers (80%) do not continue to work in Massachusetts. They are native-born (53% vs. 36% of all other migrants); they are more likely to be married with children (52.6% married vs. 44.5% of all other migrants; 31.9% with children vs. 26.5%); they are less likely to be managers or professionals (41.2% vs. 47.9% of all other migrants); and while they are well-educated, they are – on average – less so than migrants to other states (38% with at least a B.A. degree vs. 54%).

The overwhelming majority of this loss is to New Hampshire – on net, 78,201 former Massachusetts residents fled to the Granite State between 1990 and 2002 – with a sharp acceleration in movement over the last five years. In 1997-98, on net, the Bay State lost 5,014 residents; that number almost doubled to 9,953 by 2001-2002, a 98.5% increase.

These specific losses are part of a general trend of Massachusetts losing more people than it is attracting. Over the last 12 years, on net, 213,191 Bay State residents left for other states (not including foreign immigration), with losses occurring every single year – including those years of unprecedented economic expansion.

“Our findings illustrate a challenging economic reality: jobs are not enough to attract and keep workers in Massachusetts,” said Robert Nakosteen, Professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and co-author of the report. “Clearly, families are considering a range of factors – including those impacting quality of life – when deciding where to make their home.”

The study also offers good news for Massachusetts: the state is narrowly winning its fight to attract young, highly educated talent from its economic competitors (CA, CO, CT, MN, NC, NJ, NY), gaining 14,428 people over the last 12 years. There is significant “brain exchange” among these states: Approximately 28 percent of all people entering Massachusetts come from one of these knowledge-intensive economies, while 23 percent of all people leaving move to one of them. These newcomers tend to be very highly educated (50% with at least a B.A. degree vs. 32.4% of non-migrants), and they tend to work as managers or professionals in the knowledge economy (48.3% vs. 34.7% of all other migrants are managers or professionals; 52.2% vs. 41.5% work in the knowledge-based economy).

“While the gain for Massachusetts isn’t huge, our positive track record offers state leaders a solid foundation on which to build a creative, aggressive strategy for attracting and retaining these valuable workers,” said Bowles.

Mass.Migration also reveals another growing trend among Massachusetts workers: they are increasingly choosing to make their homes in warmer climates. Florida, Arizona, and Georgia attracted a significant number of Massachusetts residents during the last 12 years. The Bay State lost more residents to Florida than to any other state (99,082), the majority of which are not retirees or pre-retirees (58% are under age 55).

“MassHousing is proud to work with MassINC as the sponsor of Mass.Migration,” said Thomas R. Gleason, Executive Director of MassHousing. “This report confirms what leaders in every sector have been saying, which is that the long-term vitality and stability of our communities depend on encouraging workers of all ages and skill levels to put down roots here.”

Key findings from Mass.Migration include:

  • In every single year over the last 12 years, Mass. lost more people than it attracted (excluding international immigrants). Mass. has suffered a net loss of 213,191 domestic out-migrants.
  • Mass. is exporting a substantial number of residents to the rest of New England (CT, ME, NH, RI, VT). The rate of loss over the last 5 years has accelerated, despite a strong economy for much of that period. Over the last 12 years, on net, Mass. lost 79,031 people to other NE states.
  • Native-born, middle-class families are migrating in increasing numbers to other New England States, most notably to New Hampshire.
  • The vast majority of people who migrate to another New England state (80%) do not continue to work in Massachusetts.
  • Mass. is narrowly winning its fight to attract young highly educated talent from its economic competitor states (CA, CO, CT, MN, NC, NJ, NY), gaining 14,428 people over the last 12 years.
  • Mass. attracts a very specific type of person. No matter where they are coming from, they tend to be young, unmarried, highly educated professionals and managers who work in the knowledge economy.
  • Those leaving for our economic competitor states share similar traits with in-migrants but in even higher percentages.
  • There is also a substantial loss of people to Florida, Georgia, and Arizona. These states are top destinations for young, educated people across the country.
  • The availability of high-quality jobs does not guarantee that there will be enough skilled workers to fill them. Even at our economy’s peak, Massachusetts, on net, was not able to attract workers to our state.
About MassINC: MassINC is a nonpartisan, evidence-based organization. Our mission is to develop a public agenda for Massachusetts that promotes the growth and vitality of the middle class. Our governing philosophy is rooted in the ideals embodied in the American Dream: equality of opportunity, personal responsibility and a strong commonwealth.

About the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute: The University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute is the public service, outreach and economic development unit of the University of Massachusetts President’s Office. Established in 1971, the Institute strives to connect the Commonwealth with the resources of the University, bridging theory and innovation with real world public and private sector applications.

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