Dan Haar: Moving vans? CT lost thousands of people to other states last year, Census Bureau says

Photo of Dan Haar

Job cutbacks in barely more than a week at three of Connecticut’s highest profile national brands – Pepperidge Farm, LEGO and Sikorsky – could all be “one-offs,” as Gov. Ned Lamont put it. Turbulence in an otherwise steady if not spectacular state economy.

Maybe. But new data from the U.S. Census points to a jolt to the ride that we can’t wave off so easily: Connecticut lost exactly the same net number of residents to other states between mid-2021 and mid-2022 as moved here from other states in the year following the pandemic – 13,500 in and 13,500 out, or just over one-third of 1 percent.

That means it’s possible that the great turnaround of moving vans back into the state, a cornerstone of Lamont’s re-election and of the state’s post-pandemic self-image, might only have been a detour in the decades-long slog of outward migraton to the South and the West. And unlike isolated job announcements, the total movement of people to and from a place truly defines the pulse of prosperity.   

Between April 1, 2020 and July 1, 2021, the Census report shows, Connecticut became the permanent home to 13,471 more people from elsewhere in the country than we lost to other states. We don’t have a breakdown of where the new Nutmeggers came from – more data is coming Thursday -- y – but New York is by far the largest single source.

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On the move

Chart shows states in order of the net change in number of people who moved in or out to and from other states in the 27 months from April 2020 to June 2022.  Connecticut had a good year of in-migration in 2020-21 but then saw an exodus.  Source: U.S. Census Bureau

.Idaho 88,647 4.79% 1
.Montana 39,041 3.59% 2
.South Carolina 165,948 3.23% 3
.Florida 622,476 2.88% 4
.Delaware 27,119 2.73% 5
.Arizona 182,362 2.54% 6
.Maine 30,642 2.25% 7
.Tennessee 146,403 2.11% 8
.North Carolina 211,867 2.03% 9
.Nevada 56,317 1.81% 10
.South Dakota 14,711 1.66% 11
.Texas 475,252 1.63% 12
.Utah 47,125 1.44% 13
.Oklahoma 56,807 1.43% 14
.Alabama 65,355 1.30% 15
.Arkansas 38,055 1.26% 16
.Georgia 128,089 1.19% 17
.New Hampshire 16,038 1.16% 18
.Vermont 5,893 0.92% 19
.Wyoming 4,356 0.75% 20
.Indiana 22,694 0.33% 21
.Missouri 20,233 0.33% 22
.Kentucky 14,102 0.31% 23
.Colorado 17,984 0.31% 24
.West Virginia 2,460 0.14% 25
.Connecticut -76 0.00% 26
.Oregon -776 -0.02% 27
.Washington -7,376 -0.10% 28
.Pennsylvania -16,218 -0.12% 29
.Wisconsin -11,383 -0.19% 30
.Iowa -6,877 -0.22% 31
.New Mexico -5,058 -0.24% 32
.Ohio -39,915 -0.34% 33
.Virginia -29,775 -0.34% 34
.Mississippi -11,408 -0.39% 35
.Michigan -43,188 -0.43% 36
.Rhode Island -5,281 -0.48% 37
.Kansas -14,392 -0.49% 38
.Nebraska -11,108 -0.57% 39
.Minnesota -37,377 -0.65% 40
.North Dakota -7,186 -0.92% 41
.Maryland -68,287 -1.11% 42
.New Jersey -107,749 -1.16% 43
.Alaska -11,412 -1.56% 44
.Massachusetts -110,866 -1.58% 45
.Louisiana -80,278 -1.73% 46
.Hawaii -29,684 -2.05% 47
.California -871,127 -2.21% 48
.Illinois -282,048 -2.21% 49
.New York -664,921 -3.31% 50


We know that, not only from greeting all the New Yorkers who joined us in 2020 and early 2021, but also from data year after year, which shows that thousands of people from in and around the city scoot up to Connecticut, even in years when we’re leaking people like a fire alarm at a concert.

Then between July 1, 2021 and July 1, 2022, the number of people exiting Connecticut exceeded the number coming in by 13,547, according to the data, which has notoriously high margins of error.  If true, that puts us right back into a pattern that saw an average net exodus of 18,300 people per year between 2012 and 2019. 

'A go-to destination'

This was predicted by Donald L. Klepper-Smith, a semi-retired economist who moved from Connecticut to South Carolina, thereby becoming part of the picture he has commented on for decades.

“It is highly likely that Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey will all resume their trends towards net out-migration once the fundamentals around high taxes, high relative costs of doing business, and demographic shifts are reestablished," Klepper-Smith wrote in a newsletter some weeks ago.

South Carolina, as it happens, snagged the No. 1 position among all states in 2021-22, with a staggering 84,000 net new arrivals that year – a 1.6 percent gain.  And that followed a similar sized gain of 82,000 net palmetto seekers in the 15 COVID months.

Retirement is the main driver to the South, of course, but even a slight bent toward earlier, partial retirements or an increase in young people moving to a state for jobs can make a big difference in the migration numbers.

“Consider that each day, over 1,000 people turn 65 years of age, as baby boomers are now reaching retirement age in droves,” Klepper-Smith wrote in a newsletter this week. “The combination of low taxes in South Carolina, a temperate climate, and less traffic congestion is now making the state a ‘go-to destination’ when it comes to retirement alternatives to Florida and elsewhere.”

Connecticut's migation in the last decade was terrible, but not as horrific as the bleeding from New York, New Jersey and Illinois. Yet these states still attract excellent jobs. Consider that Pepperidge Farm’s parent company, Campbell Soup, is moving the baking icon’s head office from Norwalk to Camden, N.J. and  LEGO is exiting Enfield for Boston, in another longtime leaker, Massachusetts.

Many of these northeastern states, ours included, are showing economic strength including high tax collections with budget surpluses that we certainly didn’t see back in the Lost Decade of 2010-2019. Connecticut outpaced the nation in overall economic growth (though not in job creation) in the first nine months of 2022.

Quirks in the numbers 

Lots of caveats here in the migration numbers: In a typical year, Connecticut will see 80,000 to 110,000 people moving to and from other states.  Since the data are based on polling samples, a net departure of, say,15,000 residents can have margins of error so large that  conceivably it wasn’t a net loss at all, in reality.

A true picture requires a look at years of data. But we can’t wait that long to see what happened in the pandemic – a time when accurate sampling was almost impossible.  The U.S. Census bureau never even reported detailed 2020 migration numbers.

All states gain from international migration and Connecticut is one of the leaders in that, which saves our population because, you know, our birth rates are low. Counting foreign arrivals, including from Puerto Rico, we ranked No. 19 among states in the 15 COVID months, gaining a net 20,098 residents. 

In the July 2021-to-July 2022 year, Connecticut fell to No. 31 even with foreign arrivals, gaining just 2,749 residents because of those 13,547 net moves to other states.

Something odd is happening because the state’s economy remains strong in a lot of ways that we didn’t see in the last decade when the outward moves piled up.   

My theory is that states with large college populations skew toward outmigration falsely. Let’s say you go to Yale from Virginia. In the very unlikely event a Census poll-taker finds you, you’re likely to say you still live with your parents back in Richmond.

Then you graduate and work at, say, Bridgewater Associates, the Westport hedge fund. Now they poll you and you don’t say you’ve moved from Virginia because you’ve been here for five or six years. Then when you leave for a job in Texas, you’re logged as having left Connecticut – without ever having arrived!

A Census official told me my idea might be valid and needs to be studied. That’s true of this whole migration picture.

A note to Democrats in the legislature: If we really are losing people again, we need to be careful not to spend all this money we’ve saved up since the pandemic.