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Last exit: Is ‘everybody’ really leaving New Jersey? | Kevin Riordan

The story that certain groups are leaving New Jersey - senior citizens, millionaires, Millennials - is old news. But some say a new report by a respected moving company suggests that pretty much everyone is leaving the state.

Somewhere outside of New Jersey, a United Van on the road. The company's most recent survey of its Garden State customers shows far more moving out of than into the state. (Photo courtesy of United Van Lines)
Somewhere outside of New Jersey, a United Van on the road. The company's most recent survey of its Garden State customers shows far more moving out of than into the state. (Photo courtesy of United Van Lines)Read morePhoto provided / Courtesy of United Van Lines

First we heard that New Jersey’s millionaires are headed for the hills. Except maybe they aren’t.

Then millennials were said to be getting out of the Garden State en masse. Or are they?

We know Miss America left in 2005, came back in 2013, and now, it seems, may leave again.

And it’s a fact that generations of the state’s retirees, like their counterparts elsewhere, have departed for warmer, cheaper climates, even if they sometimes get no farther south than Delaware.

But the latest reports, like last year’s, would have us believe that practically everybody is leaving New Jersey.

Don’t believe me? Google “Everybody is leaving New Jersey.”

Even better: Check out NJ 101.5 FM. The Trenton talk station’s “Proud to Be New Jersey” slogan and regular "What’s So Great About the Garden State” feature notwithstanding, its airwaves are the unofficial everybody’s-leaving epicenter and meme curation headquarters.

“The out-migration of money from our state is so high,” morning-drive host Bill Spadea told listeners shortly after 6 a.m. Monday, launching a pre-analysis/evisceration of the State of the State address Gov. Phil Murphy is set to deliver Tuesday.

Murphy and his predecessors Chris Christie and Jon S. Corzine are key reasons people are packing up and leaving in droves, to hear Spadea and many of the station’s listeners tell it.

Additional factors are delineated in a handy Top 5 list — predictably led by property taxes, then pensions — compiled by 101.5. And other rationales can be found at Save, the proud-to-be-a-New-Jersey-conservative website run by my friend Matt Rooney, where writer Scott St. Clair posted a delightfully snide farewell to the Garden State a few days ago.

“I ran the piece because people need to feel the rage. It’s real, and it’s justified,” Rooney said. “New Jersey is still a great place to live. But with the punishing, regressive property taxes, and business taxes, it’s just not a place where people can prosper. It’s not a place that people can afford. There’s a squeeze on those in the middle of the economic ladder.”

The newest leaving-New-Jersey data are brought to you by United Van Lines, a company that has surveyed its interstate moving customers for 42 years. Of the 4,430 New Jersey moves the company handled in 2018, 2,959 customers were leaving and 1,471 arriving. Slightly over one-third, or 35 percent, of those moving out of New Jersey were retiring seniors.

United’s director of corporate communications, Eily Cummings, told me from the company’s St. Louis headquarters Monday that the percentage of retirees was “the biggest story” in the New Jersey numbers. “People who are retiring are not staying in the state. They’re moving out,” Cummings said.

Seniors hitting the road “is the old retire-and-move-to-Florida story,” said Tim Evans, director of research at New Jersey Future, an organization that advocates for smart growth and sustainable development.

Last fall, he had a bit of a public tiff with the progressive think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective over whether members of the enormous millennial generation are leaving the state in percentages greater than previous generations of young adults.

While New Jersey’s population of 22- to 34-year-olds is growing, “the growth is not as robust as you would expect given the size of the largest generation in American history,” Evans told me. A significant number of millennials are leaving the state for opportunities elsewhere, with the cost of buying a first home a likely factor, he said.

Evans disagreed with the notion that United’s data demonstrate a massive, multigenerational exodus is underway. He also points out that the state’s population continues to grow, albeit slowly.

And while New Jersey Policy Perspective insists its research shows that the state’s millennials are not leaving in headline-worthy numbers, senior policy analyst Sheila Reynertson agreed with Evans' concerns that some in the media are drawing “everybody is leaving” conclusions from the United survey.

The data set “doesn’t justify the story line” that an outsize surge of out-migration is out of control. She likened it to a “trickle,” and said New Jersey compares quite favorably with adjacent and similar states like New York and Pennsylvania. People move to and from New Jersey from those and other states for the usual reasons (jobs, family) and not because of some Garden State apocalypse.

“Special-interest [groups] are taking advantage of New Jersey’s insecurity about being an underdog,” Reynertson said. “There is no crisis among millionaires, and there is no crisis among millennials."