Over the past few years lots has been written about Connecticut’s “brain drain” or the exodus of 21 to 45 year olds, but a new report by the Department of Labor found the latest U.S. Census data seems to refute this conventional wisdom.
Just last month BlumShapiro and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association reported that an overwhelming majority, 85 percent, of respondents to its survey worry about the state’s slow population growth and out-migration of 21 to 45 year olds.
And when population estimates from the American Community Survey were released in 2009 the press release read: “Connecticut Still at Bottom in Attracting, Keeping 25-34 Year Olds.”
But when Patrick J. Flaherty, a Department of Labor economist, looked at the 2010 U.S. Census figures he discovered the “situation is not as dire or dramatic as perceptions would suggest.”
Using the latest U.S. Census data, Flaherty determined that Connecticut’s population grew 5 percent from 2000 to 2010, and the median age rose from 37.4 years to 40 years of age. While that’s not great since only Pennsylvania, Florida, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Vermont, and Maine have higher median ages, Connecticut outperformed other states such as Massachusetts.
And while it is true that the number of people in the 25 to 34 year old category fell “when the larger category of 20-to-44 year olds is examined, Connecticut does even better. Our decline (-3.7 percent) is smaller than 16 other states including all five of the other New England states as well as New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania,” Flaherty wrote in the latest issue of The Connecticut Economic Digest.
“In Connecticut the decline in 25 to 34 year olds can be entirely explained by natural demographic changes in the population,” Flaherty concluded. “In fact, in 2010 Connecticut had 16,179 more people aged 25-to-34 years than we had 15-to-24 year olds in 2000 – a 4 percent gain putting us 18th from the top, well behind rapidly growing states such as Nevada, Colorado, Florida, and Arizona, but ahead of states such as Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Minnesota.”
Putting it into perspective, Flaherty said 23 states had fewer people in the 25-34 year old category in 2010 than they had 15 to 24 year olds in 2000.
Connecticut had 18 percent more 15 to 24 year olds in 2010 than in 2000, making that age group the sixth fastest growth rate in the nation, according to Flaherty.
While Connecticut’s still aging population will have workforce implications, Flaherty contends that confusing a population that is getting older with one experiencing a mass exodus won’t help solve the problem.
Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said the report was “most hopeful.” He said he was especially fascinated with the fact that Connecticut has 18 percent more 15 to 24 years olds in 2010 than it did in 2000 and when combined with the 25 to 34 year olds that part of the population gained 4 percent over the last decade.
The challenge now will be making sure all those individuals have educational opportunities they need in order to land a job in an industry where there is demand, Looney said.
“We need to have programs in vocational technical high schools and community colleges that matches real employment needs,” Looney said.
He said that’s what lawmakers are working on as the Oct. 26 special session approaches.
In order to stop what was perceived as an exodus, lawmakers passed legislation this year that creates a “Learn Here, Live Here” tax break for students.
The program allows recent graduates from public institutions of higher education and local vocational-technical high schools to set aside $2,500 annually of their state income tax liability for 10 years to save towards a future down payment on a home. Participants in the program must graduate on or after Jan. 1, 2014 in order to qualify.
And if the graduate leaves Connecticut within five years of graduation they must repay a percentage on the funds. If they move after the first year after graduation, they must repay all of it.
University of Connecticut Economist Fred Carstensen told Patch back in June that the program is no silver bullet in retaining young talent.
“The real problem is there have to be jobs here that Connecticut graduates want to take,” Carstensen told Patch. “None of these things says to the business community you can trust us. Connecticut has a long history of offering incentives and then withdrawing them or curtailing them.”
Connecticut Business and Industry Association President and CEO John Rathgeber said Tuesday that businesses are looking for certainty. The more the state can give them, as far as certainty, the more confidence they will have in expanding and adding jobs, he said.