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Bay State exodus 2d only to N.Y.
But census finds slower N.E. losses
April 20, 2006
Stephanie Ebbert, Globe Staff Boston Globe
Massachusetts lost more residents than it attracted in recent years, at a greater rate than any other state but New York, according to Census Bureau estimates released today.

The estimates show that between 2000 and 2004, more residents left Massachusetts than moved to the Bay State -- with an average annual exodus of 42,402 people.  That amounts to a rate of 6.6 people leaving the state per 1,000, second only to New York's rate of 9.6 residents per 1,000 during that period.

The US Census Bureau report measured how many people are moving in and out of states, and it found that the migration from most of the New England states has slowed in recent years.  More people moved into Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont than moved out from 2000 to 2004, while the number of people moving into Connecticut dropped slightly.  Nationally, the South remained the primary destination.

The estimates are the latest to document flagging population in Massachusetts, which has become an issue among candidates for governor in this year's campaign.  Demographers pointed to the region's precipitous loss of high-tech jobs and the continued high cost of housing as factors driving Massachusetts residents elsewhere.

"I think that's plaguing a lot of the country -- these go-go places of the late '90s, especially those with the high-tech components and persistent high housing costs," said William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

Frey said metropolitan Boston has been losing people since 1990, but in recent years the loss has been occurring at greater rates than at any time since the recession of 1990 and 1991.  Today's report found that among large metropolitan areas, Greater Boston trailed only San Francisco and New York City in its rate of loss.

The latest estimates measured domestic migration rates, and not overall population, and so do not include new immigrants or overall birth rates.  The Massachusetts population estimate as of July 2005 was 6,398,743, down more than 8,000 since 2004, the Census says.

Even with immigration, the population has not kept up because more people are moving out.  "When you have that many more people leaving each year than coming in, it makes it that much more challenging to have population growth," said Marc J. Perry, a demographer for the US Census Bureau who handled the latest report.

Paul Harrington, an economist at Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies, discounted housing prices for the exodus.  "I think that's a tired excuse for poor performance," he said, criticizing Governor Mitt Romney, saying he failed to turn around the jobs market.  The governor, a venture capitalist, swept into office promising to woo CEOs and their jobs to the state. Since the third quarter of 2003, the nation has added jobs at four times the rate Massachusetts did, said Harrington.

"We're among the poorest performing states in the country in terms of our ability to recover [economically].  The state of Rhode Island did pretty well over this period of time.  They had a governor down there that worked hard at the business of job creation," Harrington said.  "I think you've got to just say that on the development side, we didn't get the job done in the state."

While New England continued to lose population, it did so at lower rates than in the 1990s, the Census Bureau estimates said.

Maine was suffering slight losses in the 1990s, but attracted new residents between 2000 and 2004, making it the fifth leading state in the nation in its rate of migration.  New Hampshire, whose population had not suffered as dramatically in the 1990s, made gains that placed it sixth.  And while Rhode Island was experiencing outmigration in the 1990s, its in-migration climbed 1.3 percent between 2000 and 2004, the report found.

But nationally, the regions picking up population are in the South and West, with Nevada, Arizona, Florida, and Idaho topping the list.  Romney's communications director, Eric Fehrnstrom, noted those centers of population growth and attributed Massachusetts' losses to New England's weather.  "Generally speaking, people tend to migrate to warmer climates where the housing is cheaper and more plentiful.  There's not much we can do about the New England weather, but we are very much focused on progrowth policies that will encourage the creation of more housing and lower taxes so living here is more affordable," Fehrnstrom said in a statement.

He also noted said that the 2005 population estimates, which were not analyzed in the report, show Rhode Island's population dropping, by about 3,727 people.

Michael D. Goodman, director of economic and public policy research at the University of Massachusetts' Donahue Institute, called the state's population trend "an unfortunate story."  The state's primary competitive advantage has been its highly skilled workforce, he said.  But the native residents who are relocating are disproportionately younger, better educated, and more likely to be employed in a high-tech industry, he said.

"Absent some significant policy action, absent some renewed economic growth and job growth in particular, I think the population trajectory for Massachusetts is very troubling," he said.  He cited social and economic challenges resulting from an aging population and a shrinking household size.  "We fail to act at our own peril."

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