The latest Census Bureau population estimates did not bring holiday season cheer to New York. The data show the number of New Yorkers fell in the 12 months ended July 1 for the first time in a decade.
True, the decline was slight—roughly 1,900 out of a statewide population that totaled nearly 20 million. But without its robust rates of births and foreign immigration, the drop would have been much larger. The reason why is New York’s net migration; it decreased by 191,367.
According to data compiled by the Empire Center for Public Policy, New York’s outflow over the last six years adds up to 846,669 people. No state has lost more people—in absolute terms and as a share of its 2010 population.
New York’s high taxes often get blamed for its negative net migration rate, and no doubt that burden is a key factor. Yet as noted here before, it’s wise to be wary of simple explanations.
If taxes alone explain a high net population outflow, why do California and Maryland, which also have among the heaviest state and local tax burdens nationwide, rank in the top half of all states in terms of positive net migration?
Focusing on statewide factors also can obscure the picture at the local level. Migration rates can vary considerably from county to county.
From 2010 to 2015, Monroe, Genesee, Livingston, Orleans and Wayne counties all saw net migration drop, and at a faster rate than the state as a whole. But Ontario County had a positive rate—indeed, it was third best across New York. And most of the movement was among neighboring counties.
The demographics of net migration are important too. Earlier this year, Texas-based Headlight Data released an analysis of numbers from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey that showed among metro areas with more than 1 million people, the Rochester area logged the biggest percentage increase of millennials from 2009 to 2014.
None of this is to suggest that a heavy tax burden is irrelevant. But gaining a fuller understanding of why people migrate to and from our region is the best route to a healthy population growth rate.
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