And here I thought we had the place to ourselves.
Not by a long chalk, it turns out. New census data show that Massachusetts is the fastest-growing state in New England, population wise. In the past three years, our numbers increased by over 133,000, to 6.7 million residents. That’s a two percent growth rate, far outstripping gelid Maine (0.16 per cent) and stagnant, Bolshie Vermont (0.02 per cent.)
So-called “natural increase,” i.e., births outstripping deaths, is not the primary driver of population growth here. No sex, please; we are from Massachusetts. You smirk, but that’s true. Commonwealth residents are more highly educated than the population at large, and intellectuals trend low for birth rates.
Since 2011, over 35,000 men and women have been arriving here each year from overseas; students, relatives of existing residents, and job-seekers. Massachusetts companies request about 15,000 specialty H1-B visas for foreign workers each year. Emigration in that same time has been fairly low, averaging around 10,000.
Where do Bay Staters go? To Florida, for the enticing climate, and to New Hampshire, for cultural richness and diversity. Just kidding, ancestral home of Franklin Pierce and Adam Sandler. Like Florida, New Hampshire has no earned income nor estate taxes. They are great places to bleed down your IRA accounts and die.
Population growth is a heady new experience for us, and reverses a trend. Between 2003 and 2004, Massachusetts was the only state in the union to actually lose population. That didn’t bother me. I felt we were self-selecting for hardiness and intellect: We Happy Few!
“Older, colder, and not always that friendly,” was how outsiders viewed us, according to University of Massachusetts demographer Michael D. Goodman. A decade ago, Goodman bemoaned our “state of decline” on this very page, fretting that “Massachusetts is losing people.”
“Many of those leaving are precisely the people upon whom the economy has always depended to provide the state’s leading industries with the skilled labor . . . that have made Massachusetts a leader in the global innovation economy,” he wrote.
Well, now we are growing, so that’s good, right?
Not so fast, says Goodman, who is only partially heartened by the new data. It is true that Massachusetts weathered the 2007-2008 recession better than most parts of the country. And yes, there is plenty of muscle in the Boston area’s core industries, such as higher education, health care, and biotechnology.
But many of the problems Goodman identified in 2005 remain with us, he says. “It’s hard for people to live a cost-effective, high quality life in the inner Boston area, where the economic opportunities are plentiful,” he explains. “The good jobs are concentrated in a small portion of the state, but it’s hard for younger families to get to them. We still need better transportation, and we need dense, affordably priced multi-family housing for these workers.”
Two constants are working against us: the inexorable aging of our small population, and the net emigration statistics, meaning that if you exclude international immigration, more Bay Staters leave than arrive. “It’s not brain drain, it’s more like a brain exchange,” Goodman says. “In an environment where we’re not making enough of our own babies, sensible immigration policy is a no-brainer for Massachusetts.”
In addition to making babies, we also need to educate them. “We wouldn’t need to attract as many skilled workers if we did a better job growing our own,” Goodman says. “Our vulnerability is on the human capital side, but we are in a position to do something about it.”
Procreate and educate! There’s a bumper sticker for Charlie Baker. He can thank me later.
Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.