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In migration, New Jersey giveth to Michigan, and Florida taketh away

While the Internal Revenue Service works to fix the problems with their 2010-2011 state-to-state migration data files, the Census Bureau has released information gathered in the 2012 American Community Survey on migration to and from Michigan between 2011 and 2012. And the news is, if not good, at least less bad than it’s been. The state’s population loss seems to be slowing.

One must acknowledge that the data come from a rather small sample, unlike the IRS tax filer information, and are subject to error. However, let us put aside all the caveats and look at the migration totals across the 50 states.

The major story is that Michigan’s net domestic outmigration was shown to have fallen for the second year in a row. A net loss of 62,058 residents occurred between 2009 and 2010, followed by a loss of 47,347 between 2010 and 2011. The new data estimate a net loss of 41,752 residents between 2011 and 2012. When we unpack the data we find that Michigan gained residents from 18 states and lost them to 32. Let’s look at the top 10 in each category.

Population contributions came from a variety of states, with no apparent regional pattern except for the Northeast, which accounted for four of the top 10 with New Jersey (1,293), New York (540), Massachusetts (383) and Maine (145). Surprising contributors were New Mexico (716 residents) and Oregon (241) – two states that have been attractive to both retirees and young professionals. In addition, Wisconsin’s contribution of 851 represented a reversal from previous years. The top 10 is rounded out by Alaska, Louisiana and Wyoming.

As for where the state’s residents are heading when they leave, the historical pattern of Michigan residents heading south is quite clear. The net loss to Florida alone – 10,254 – represented almost twice the total gain Michigan received from all 18 contributing states. While only New Jersey contributed more than 1,000 residents, eleven states took more than 1,000 residents away – Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Arizona, North Carolina, Washington, Tennessee, South Carolina and Minnesota, in addition to aforementioned Florida. Ohio’s gain of 5,018 represents an increase over previous years and, not being a retiree attractor, would indicate an apparent employment strength that is drawing Michigan residents.

While the traditional South accounted for six of the top 10 recipients, Arizona continued to be a major attractor of retirees. While Oregon contributed, its neighbor, Washington State, attracted a net 1,324 Michiganders. Illinois, primarily due to the draw of Chicago, continued to attract a significant number of younger residents.

While Michigan will always have a difficult time holding on to its retirees who are looking for warmth, efforts tied to improving the perception of employment opportunities, coupled with attraction efforts through university alumni organizations and other groups, are necessary to continue the decrease in net outmigration.

In addition, Michigan needs to better understand how its policies in the areas of gay rights and education influence residency preferences. It is clear that taxes alone are not the answer to growth. People make residency decisions based on a number of factors. It is time that state government takes a good hard look at these issues, listens to its residents and determines the direction we wish to take as a state.

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