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New Jersey’s Approval Rate Sinking With Young Adults

March 13th, 2019 by

The recent release of the latest edition of the Monmouth University Poll’s Garden State Quality of Life Index made headlines because the index has hit an all-time low: Only half of the survey’s respondents rated New Jersey as either an excellent (11 percent) or good (39 percent) place to live. This was down from 54 percent in the previous version of the survey, and down substantially from the mid-60s where the rating has generally ranged since Monmouth started asking the question back in 1980.

This news is consistent with a flurry of recent stories about New Jersey losing people to other states. Many of these stories (see, for example, NJTV, ROI-NJ, the Press of Atlantic City) were triggered by the release of the latest United Van Lines “Annual National Movers Study,” which found that New Jersey ranked first among the 50 states in terms of the percent of moves that were outbound, when tallying up all intra-US moves into or out of each state.

While one moving van company’s administrative records are not necessarily definitive, Census Bureau data confirm that New Jersey has a high rate of domestic out-migration (as does most of the Northeastern United States, as Governing magazine recently observed). From July 2017 through June 2018, the most recent year of data on components of population change available, New Jersey lost a net 50,591 people to other states (that is, the number of people leaving New Jersey for other states minus the number coming into New Jersey from other states), the fourth-largest net flow of out-migrants (behind New York, California, and Illinois) among the 50 states. This amounts to a net loss of almost 1,000 out-migrants per week to other states.

Granted, New Jersey is a relatively populous state (it ranks 11th in population), so its large net outflow (like those of New York, California, and Illinois) is at least in part a function of its large population. But even if we compute net domestic out-migration relative to 2017 population (that is, how big a percentage of total population each state lost to other states), New Jersey still ranks eighth, after Alaska, New York, Illinois, Hawaii, Wyoming, Connecticut, and Louisiana. New Jersey has a domestic out-migration problem, no matter how you measure it.

New Jersey’s population is still growing, albeit slowly, thanks to natural increase (births minus deaths) and immigrants from other countries.  But without international immigration, New Jersey’s population would have dropped by 26,735 between 2017 and 2018 – the third biggest such hypothetical decline, behind New York (which would have lost more than 100,000) and Illinois (about 76,000). In fact, New Jersey is one of nine states – along with Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont – that posted small population gains between July 2017 and June 2018 but which would have lost population if not for immigrants from other countries. Immigration is the only thing keeping these states off the list of population losers. (Nine other states – New York, Illinois, and Connecticut among them – actually did lose population from 2017 to 2018 even including international immigration.)

Why are so many people leaving New Jersey for other states?

The Monmouth survey offers some clues, when viewed in the context of other data items that New Jersey Future and others have observed. The drop in the Quality of Life Index was driven by respondents’ feelings about the state overall, rather than their feelings about the specific town where they live. Feelings about quality of schools, safety in one’s own community, and quality of the environment are relatively unchanged from earlier surveys, and the question about an overall rating of one’s own town or city is down only slightly from last year. In contrast, the question about rating the whole state of New Jersey as a place to live is down more substantially.

In particular, New Jersey’s rating as a good place to live has taken a nosedive among young adults. From the poll’s press release:

There have been a number of demographic shifts in the key state rating question since last year … By age, the state rating has dropped 11 points among those 18 to 34 years old (47%) and by 5 points among those 35 to 54 years old (47%) but has ticked up 2 points among those age 55 and older (54%).

New Jersey Future noted a turn for the worse among young adults in the July 2017 edition of the Quality of Life Index as a possible early warning sign about Millennials’ dissatisfaction with New Jersey. It was not a false alarm: Our subsequent analysis indicates that Millennials are migrating to other states in substantial numbers.

What is causing Millennials to sour on New Jersey? As we have documented, the Millennial generation shows a preference for compact, walkable neighborhoods where they can live, work, shop, and play all within short distances, or within easy reach of public transit. New Jersey has plenty of such places and would seem to offer Millennials exactly what they’re looking for. But many of these cities and older suburbs with traditional downtowns are increasingly out of reach price-wise for young adults. Just as we said in 2017, New Jersey’s high housing costs, and the fact that the state ranks no. 1 in the percent of people aged 18 to 34 who live with their parents (45.5 percent in New Jersey as of the 2016 American Community Survey, compared to 33.7 percent nationally), suggest that many young adults simply can’t afford to live on their own in New Jersey.

If New Jersey’s Millennials can’t afford to move into the state’s own walkable, mixed-use centers, some will choose to relocate to other metropolitan areas in other states that offer what they want but with cheaper housing prices. Others will continue to live with their parents, perhaps also continuing to tell pollsters that, while they like the particular town where they’re currently living, they’d like New Jersey even better if they could afford to get their own place.

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