A friend of mine who lived for many years on the North Shore relocated to Kentucky in 2018 and has rejoiced ever since that it was among the best decisions he ever made. Compared with the Bay State, he reports, the housing where he lives now is more affordable, the taxes are lower, the winters are milder, the people are friendlier, and the politics are more congenial. Not even the tornadoes that tore up Western Kentucky last month have dampened his satisfaction in no longer having to put up with all the things that he found so irksome about life in Massachusetts.
My friend’s experience isn’t anomalous. Each year, more people leave Massachusetts for other states than move to Massachusetts from other states. According to the US Census Bureau, between April 2020 and July 2021, the population of Massachusetts shrank by more than 45,000. Only three other states — California, New York, and Illinois — experienced a greater net outflow of residents.
When it comes to domestic migration — the movement of people within the United States — Massachusetts has been on the losing team for quite a while. Back in 2003, the Donahue Institute at the University of Massachusetts noted with concern that over the previous 12 years, Massachusetts had experienced a net loss of more than 213,000 people (not including foreign immigrants). The out-migration hasn’t stopped. While the influx of people moving into Massachusetts from elsewhere in the United States has been steady, the Boston Business Journal observed in 2020, the tide of those moving out has swelled by 24 percent. And where are they going? The numbers fluctuate from year to year, but the Journal identified Florida and New Hampshire as the two “top states draining Massachusetts of the most residents.”
Real-world evidence confirms that far more people relocate from Massachusetts to Florida or New Hampshire than the other way around.
Consider U-Haul’s rental rates. To rent a 26-foot truck for a one-way move from Boston to Orlando this month will cost you $5,325, but the rate is just $887 for a move from Orlando to Boston. Why the steep disparity? Because the demand for one-way trucks from Boston to Florida is very high, while demand for trucks going in the other direction is very low.
The imbalance shows up even for destinations as close as Massachusetts and New Hampshire. U-Haul’s rate to rent a truck from Boston to Manchester is $473. But it’s just $208 if you’re driving from Manchester to Boston.
To be sure, the choices Americans make about where to live and work are affected by all kinds of individual considerations — school, work, weather, family, cost of living. But the persistent attraction of Florida and New Hampshire also reflects the fact that they offer something Massachusetts doesn’t: Could it be that neither imposes an income tax? When the states are ranked by overall tax burden, Florida and New Hampshire are among the least onerous. That can’t be said about Massachusetts. Taxes are not the only reason that people pull up stakes and move, of course. But the steady (and costly) flow of Massachusetts residents to the Granite and Sunshine states speaks for itself.
Economist Mark Perry, who analyzes national domestic migration patterns, shows that on a range of economic and political measures, the Top 10 “inbound” states (currently Florida, Texas, Arizona, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Idaho, Utah, and Nevada) differ significantly from the Top 10 “outbound” states (California, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Louisiana, Maryland, Hawaii, Minnesota, and Michigan). By and large, inbound states have lower taxes, Republican governments, cheaper energy, greater fiscal stability, and a more pro-business environment. Outbound states are more likely to lean the other way.
Admittedly, these are only broad patterns, and no state in either category fits the description precisely. And, as noted, every family’s decision to move from one state to another is shaped by personal circumstances. But the data keep reinforcing the patterns. “There is empirical evidence that Americans and businesses ‘vote with their feet’ when they relocate from one state to another,” writes Perry. “The evidence suggests that Americans are moving from blue states that are more economically stagnant . . . to fiscally sound red states that are more economically vibrant.”
Massachusetts certainly has its charms and advantages; countless Bay Staters would never consider moving anywhere else. But plenty of their neighbors feel differently. Year in, year out, tens of thousands of Massachusetts residents leave for good, and their numbers aren’t replenished by newcomers from other states. My friend in Kentucky is happy he left, and he’s clearly not alone.