The following opinion piece was published on DailyRecord.com and MyCentralJersey.com, along with the print editions of the Daily Record, Courier News and Home News Tribune on September 16, 2018.
“It could be worse” isn’t exactly a comforting motto for most life situations.
But that’s the core message of the editorial “No, we’re not losing all the good people” about how things aren’t so bad in the Garden State because millennials are only fleeing the state at the same pace they have since the ‘80s, not in record numbers as many previously thought.
The editorial draws on research conducted by Rutgers students for a study commissioned by New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP). The report is aimed at comforting concerned New Jersey taxpayers by pointing out that New Jersey is only losing taxpayers at the same clip as the other high-tax, high-cost states.
New Jersey is a worldwide hub for business, sports, art and culture. We have world-class universities and are next door to one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. People of all ages — especially those starting their professional career or pursuing higher education — should be flocking to the Garden State. But at the same time, states like Nevada, Michigan, Florida, Delaware and Tennessee are seeing their millennial populations surge, young people are steadily moving away from here.
On net, New Jersey is losing about 1 percent of its Millennial population each year. The NJPP study tries making the pitch that those numbers aren’t so bad because they’ve been consistently bad since 1983. But a sinking ship isn’t OK just because it’s sinking at a steady rate and, a closer look underneath the numbers, shows that the more recent trend in key groups is worsening.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, from 2007 to 2016 New Jersey had the largest net outmigration of first-time undergraduate students. New Jersey also has one of the highest rates of students and recent graduates who still live with their parents.
Despite all of our geographic advantages as a state, and the amazing education that students can get here, they’re either looking elsewhere to start their career or forced to start their adult life in their childhood bedroom.
“Misery loves company” is another maxim that should sound alarm bells when being used to defend state public policies.
The other major point made by NJPP is that New Jersey’s population and income loss isn’t that bad because it’s in line with other high-tax, high-cost states (California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania). Wouldn’t a more balanced approach to this issue have also taken a look at the outmigration rates of those low-tax states already cited above? After all, New Jersey is in competition with 49 other states, not just those high tax states selected by the Rutgers students.
New Jersey’s outmigration problem (as consistent as it might be overall) isn’t just costing the state residents, it’s costing the state valuable — and desperately needed — economic growth and the related tax revenue. Since 2004 when New Jersey’s “millionaires tax” was put into place, the state has lost an average of $1.9 billion on net in tax revenue each year from taxpayers moving out of the state.
Decades of perpetually higher spending, continual tax hikes and dangerously uncompetitive policies have cost New Jersey jobs and residents. Every data point and study — including the NJPP one —proves that point. No amount of spin will make the numbers look less bleak.
Until advocates for reality become louder than advocates for spin, “Hey, it could be worse!” will continue to describe New Jersey’s struggles.
Regina M. Egea, President, Garden State Initiative