OP-ED | No, 40% of Connecticut’s Residents Won’t Leave in the Next Five Years
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There’s another new study out that says yes, everyone hates it here and wants to leave. For most people, they probably aren’t about to drop everything and move to Arizona. But outmigration is still a nagging problem, especially for a state where the population is also aging.
A study from the Connecticut Economic Resource Council’s InformCT project has, among other things, suggested that two out of every five residents want to leave the state sometime in the next five years. That’s quite a lot of people. If this survey is accurate and everyone who wanted to leave actually did, we’d lose over a million people.
It’s not going to happen, of course. One of the delights of living here is that we often can’t afford to go anywhere else. That, and the fact that griping and threatening to move somewhere else are common pastimes with a long and depressing history, means that most of those people who say they want to move will end up staying in their ranch house in Rocky Hill for another winter.
So what does this survey actually tell us? Is Connecticut exceptional in the number of people who say they want to leave, and if so, what will that mean for us going forward?
The answer to the first question seems to be an unqualified yes: Connecticut has one of the highest percentages of residents who want to move out. A Gallup poll done in 2014 found that half the population in Illinois and Connecticut would choose to move to a different state if they could. Interestingly, only 16 percent said they were actively looking to move in the next year — which was not as bad as Nevada’s 20 percent of active movers.
Still, that’s a lot of people who would bolt if they could. By comparison, only 23 percent of the good people of Montana and 24 percent in New Hampshire said they’d leave if offered the chance.
What’s the deal, then?
Well, for starters, the numbers vary by age. Young people are a lot more likely to want to move out, which is something we already knew. Why do they leave? Let’s start with jobs, opportunity, cost of living, and a relative lack of the big, exciting, well-connected cities the young are gravitating toward. And no, working in New York City doesn’t count — very few young people who want to go to New York will settle for New Canaan.
The survey also tells us that outmigration — or the threat of it — is going to remain one of our biggest headaches for years to come. Statistics tell us that people are mostly heading to neighboring New York and Massachusetts or to Florida. If I had to guess, people are moving to New York and Massachusetts for jobs, and to Florida to retire — or perhaps also for jobs.
While it’s true that some of our population loss is being offset by people coming from Puerto Rico and from other countries, there has been a steady net drop. The young are leaving, the rest of the population is aging, and immigration and in-migration from other states aren’t making up the difference. This is the sort of drain that happened to rural America for a very long time; to see it in mostly suburban and urban Connecticut is a measure of just how bad our economy, our infrastructure, and our morale have gotten.
It also means that this trend will continue for a while to come, though 40 percent of the people aren’t about to leave. But we will steadily lose ground to many of our competitor states. I wouldn’t be surprised if we lost a congressional seat after 2021’s reapportionment.
What can we do about it, if anything?
First, the state desperately needs to find a way out of the never-ending budget crisis we’ve found ourselves stuck in since pretty much the moment Gov. Dannel P. Malloy took office, and we need to do so in ways that won’t push young people out of state. Cutting higher education, for example, doesn’t help.
Second, Connecticut must develop ways to become more business friendly, and really dedicate much more of the government’s energy to kickstarting the stagnant economy.
Third, we need to fix our infrastructure and invest in better transit and traffic control.
And, lastly, we need to find a way to fix ourselves. All these years of bad news and bad luck have left us feeling like Connecticut has no future. It does. Our state is home to so many creative, incredible, hard-working people. Instead of wanting to move away, I would love to see us believe in them, and ourselves, for a change.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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