Amid all the bad economic news our state has weathered since 2007 and beyond, at least we could be reassured that Connecticut’s population was still growing, albeit slowly. Add 2014 to the list of years featuring bad news. Our state is officially losing people.
According to U.S. Census estimates, Connecticut is one of six states that actually lost population over the last two fiscal years. No, we’re not as bad as Illinois, which chased even more people out, but even with Alaska, which lost 0.07 percent of its population.
The reasons for the exodus of nearly 2,700 people out of Connecticut appears quite simple. Despite a recent uptick in employment, job creation remains slow, sales and income taxes are high relative to other parts of the nation, energy costs are out of this world and affordable housing is becoming scarcer by the month.
Furthermore, the regulatory burden imposed on commerce, which UConn economist Fred Carstensen has called “the worst permitting regime in the country,” does not make Connecticut an attractive place in which to do business. And rather than reform our system to attract employers, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration has taken to offering special tax and loan deals — some call it bribery — to entice certain favored corporations into moving or remaining here.
Perhaps the more interesting questions focus on the implications of population loss and whether fleeing the state is the answer for workers and young people. In an op-ed last week in The Courant, Orlando J. Rodriguez, a legislative analyst at the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, noted that most of the recent modest increases in the state’s population were because of increases in Connecticut’s Latino community. But it looks like that trend has ground to a halt.
On the one hand, Rodriguez added, maybe losses in population aren’t all bad. There will be less congestion on the state’s highways and the demand for land will diminish, reducing the need for suburban sprawl. And with fewer students to serve, public schools will be less expensive to run.
On the other hand, a state that’s losing population is a state in decline. Less construction means fewer jobs. And the graying of the population means fewer young people will be working to support the benefits needed by a growing elderly population.
Connecticut is down to five congressional districts, having lost one after the 2000 Census. Do we really want to lose more clout in Washington with only four districts? And for you progressives out there, that lost district will likely go to a red state.
The larger question for those fleeing Connecticut is whether the grass is truly greener. There is no question that southern and midwestern states have a lower cost of living and, typically, lower taxes. However, wages are also lower. So do Nutmeggers relocating to, say, Texas come out on top?
Even if it’s a wash, New Englanders who hate the cold (who doesn’t this time of year?) still come on on top. And while those blue states on the coasts have higher average incomes, studies have shown the red states typically have a more favorable income-to-housing-cost ratio. But the social services of the red states aren’t as generous, so if you’re poor or someone who depends on public assistance, they can be miserable places to live.
Furthermore, the American Dream of owning a good-sized home with a yard and a pool is typically more achievable for workers in Oklahoma City than in Cape Cod or Fairfield County. Granted, the schools probably won’t be as good in South Carolina or New Mexico, but it’s pretty obvious at this point that lots of people in the northeast don’t really care.
Ironically, income inequality has grown fastest over the past three decades in blue states. In 1979, reports urban studies theorist Richard Florida, the most unequal states were poor conservative states — Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama and Georgia. By 2012, New York, Connecticut, California, and Massachusetts joined Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, Texas, and Tennessee among the 10 most unequal states.
It’s not hard to understand why people are fleeing for warmer climates and more opportunity. Look no further than this other new nugget of census information: Florida just passed New York as the third largest state by population.
For now, I’m bucking the trend. I’ll fight the cold, the taxes, and my electricity bill for the privilege of living in a beautiful state that takes care of its neediest and offers abundant cultural opportunities.
On second thought, I think I’d be willing to move to any state that doesn’t raid its transportation fund.
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