The proportion of Americans who moved in the last year was the lowest since the Census began asking the question 63 years ago, damaging our self-concept of a society that's ready to pick up and go for new opportunities.
That means people didn't move across town, across the state, or, in Connecticut elites' constant worry, flee to Sunbelt states. Fewer than 12 percent of Americans moved from 2010 to 2011 — compared with about 20 percent who moved in a single year at the high points in the 1950s and 1980s.
Kristy and Dan Coon would have liked to move to Middlefield from Meriden this year, to shorten Dan's commute as a carpenter at a private school in Madison, and to get a bigger yard for their three kids, 9, 6 and 2. Kristy works as a teacher in Meriden.
When they put their two-story colonial on the market in February, they asked $299,000, and figured they could buy a similar sized house in Middlefield for $350,000, putting 20 percent down and using some other profits from the sale to pay off bills.
But, even after dropping the price to $259,000, it hasn't sold, and the houses for sale in Middlefield are priced more like $400,000.
"It's frustrating," Kristy Coon said. "We're not getting people to even look at it, because they're saying there are houses to go for 200 [thousand] or less."
Even though the Coons remodeled the kitchen and put a new roof in the 10 years they've lived there, home shoppers see how long the house has sat on the market and assume it's priced too high, she said.
The vast majority of moves in the United States are local — two-thirds within the same county and another 17 percent to another county within the same state.
Debbie Lee and her wife had planned to sell their house in Newington when they began planning for their second child, because the master bedroom was upstairs but the other two bedrooms were downstairs. But almost as soon as they put it on the market in 2009, they realized they could afford to add two bedrooms and a bath and stay put. Lee, a stay-at-home-mom to their two kids, is glad they did. "I grew up as an army brat, so I moved all my life," she said.
The Census data released this week doesn't just show how much we're staying put, but also where those few long-distance movers are heading. A plurality of them move for a job, but about a quarter move for family reasons.
Although some in Connecticut worry we have an exodus of residents to states like Florida, South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina for lower taxes and housing costs, jobs and warmer weather, only Florida draws a significant number of nutmeggers among Southern states. In 2010, about 9,200 people moved here from Florida, and about 11,200 moved there from here.
The biggest competitor we have for residents is Massachusetts, where about 13,300 of the state's residents moved last year. The Bay State sent 8,500 here. On the other hand, year after year, Connecticut lures about 5,000 more New Yorkers to the state than it loses to the Empire State.
"The Boston area in particular has recovered pretty dynamically from the financial tsunami," said Fred Carstensen, a UConn economist and director of the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis.
Perhaps because of the difficult real estate environment, combined with the lack of job growth in most parts of the country, Connecticut's net losses to other states have ebbed in recent years. Five years ago, 24,000 more people left Connecticut than arrived from other states; for each of the last two years, that loss has been just 12,000.
Connecticut's population, like in many states, continues to grow in good times and bad because of immigration. But many worry about the loss of young, college-educated people — a level of detail that's not part of the Census data.
"I don't think the numbers by themselves indicate anything," said Oz Griebel, CEO of the MetroHartford Alliance. "Am I going to sleep better tonight because of this wonderful demographic information? It doesn't make me feel any better."
William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution who helped analyze the data for the Census, said he wouldn't attribute Connecticut residents' leaving to high taxes or unhappiness with the quality of life. In fact, he said Connecticut elites shouldn't even necessarily think of outmigration as a sign of a problem. It is in Michigan, but not in Connecticut, he said, where the high education levels, high earnings and continued success in drawing residents from New York all tell a different story.
"You do want to be able to attract young people for the long haul," Frey said, but attracting young college-educated residents from India and China is just as valuable as having them come from Ohio or New Jersey.
And by the way, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy now has another talking point to brag about in his ongoing spat with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: About 2,500 nutmeggers moved to Jersey in 2010, but 3,500 moved here from the Garden State.
A recent analysis of Census data by economist Patrick Flaherty at the Connecticut Department of Labor also gives some encouraging news about the state's track record with young adults — the state had 4 percent more 25- to 34-year-olds in 2010 than it had 15 to 24-year-olds in 2000, a growth rate that puts the state in the top half of the country, and ahead of Massachusetts. In fact, Flaherty pointed out, 23 states had fewer 25- to 34-year-olds in 2010 than they'd had 15 to 24-year-olds in 2000.
Carstensen said that's encouraging, as it means people starting their careers are finding job opportunities here.
Frey said it's only natural that people remember their neighbors' kids who moved to New York City rather than thinking about all the New Yorkers who move to Stamford, Darien, New Haven and Greenwich.
"There's always a New York City envy for all the states around it," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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