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Migration patterns

A new research report from the Empire Center for New York State Policy does not beat around the bush. Titled “Empire State Exodus,” the report begins with a blunt statement: “The Empire State is being drained of an invaluable resource—people.”

Its chief finding is no less striking. “From 2000 to 2008, in both absolute and relative terms,” the report’s authors write, “New York experienced the nation’s largest loss of residents to other states—a net domestic migration outflow of over 1.5 million, or 8 percent of its population at the start of the decade.”

Outmigration from New York is not a new story. But this study offers fascinating—and at times sobering—detail, down to the regional and county levels, drawn from recent Census Bureau and Internal Revenue Service data.

Some facts:

  • Among the states, only California also lost more than 1 million residents during the period studied. On a percentage basis, even Hurricane Katrina-ravaged Louisiana fared better than New York.
  • In New York, much of the outmigration occurred in New York City, where the net figure was 13.9 percent.
  • Metro Rochester had a net outmigration rate of 4.2 percent. Within this region, the rates varied considerably; while Orleans County had a 5.8 percent rate, Monroe County’s was 2.8 percent and Ontario County had a net inmigration rate of 2.9 percent.
  • Those who leave the Rochester area go where you might expect: Nearly 72 percent migrated to southern states, and 15 percent headed west.

By focusing on net migration, this study makes no mention of a fact unearthed a few years ago by Richard Deitz of the Buffalo branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He found that the upstate region actually did not have an unusually high outmigration rate; the real problem was an unusually low rate of inmigration, especially among skilled workers.

As he noted, “Upstate New York’s net outflow of college-educated workers reflects a lack of a ‘brain gain’ rather than an unusually large ‘brain drain.’”

The core problem, however, would seem to be the same either way: Upstate has not kept pace with other regions in job creation.

Especially when it comes to educated workers, generating good jobs is the surest way to stem the net outflow.

10/30/09 (c) 2009 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303.


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