Northeastern residents want out, Sunbelt is the beneficiary

Some northeastern states have a massive public relations problem, and places like Florida stand to gain.

An astonishingly large number of residents in the Northeast corridor from Boston to Virginia, plus the state of Illinois, say they would leave their state if they could.

Fully half the people living in Illinois and Connecticut want to move elsewhere, 50 percent from Illinois and 49 percent from Connecticut. Other northeastern states are close behind. A huge 47 percent say they would leave Maryland, 42 percent want out of Rhode Island and 41 percent want to escape Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. In Pennsylvania and Virginia, a solid 37 percent want to get out.

Conversely, when people are asked if their state is the best possible state in which to live, just three percent say Connecticut, Illinois and Rhode Island are the best.

It’s not just the weather that starts people thinking about moving. In most states, about 11 percent cite weather as a cause for moving.

Reasons given for leaving include jobs, being closer to family and friends, quality of life, schools, cost of living and taxes.

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut residents overwhelmingly say their taxes are too high, followed by Illinois, Rhode Island, Maryland and Massachusetts. Illinois residents trust their state government less than any other state.

Notably, these poll results come not from some partisan group critical of the political leadership in the Northeast, but from the highly-respected Gallup organization in Princeton, NJ.

These are startling numbers, revealing massive displeasure over the way things are going in many states. Not just retirees say they want to move, but also younger families.

The result is a continuing brain drain and a financial drain for those states left behind. People who leave take with them jobs, income and tax revenues. They take their skills, spending power, contributions to charities and support for local community organizations.

State leaders seem unable to discourage people from wanting to leave. Northern governors often talk about bringing back jobs, employers and young families, but state legislators often have their own agendas.

For example, the Connecticut legislative session which ended this week was notable for an irrelevant 2-1/2-hour state Senate debate about banning genetically modified grass seed. In recent years, the Connecticut legislature has not hesitated to adopt a $1.4-billion tax increase and other measures unfriendly to many employers and taxpayers. Naturally, residents arrive at the idea of leaving.

What all this means is that a 50-year migration from the so-called Rust Belt to the Sunbelt is far from over. People still express surprisingly strong desires to vote with their feet. They want to move for a better quality of life and lower cost of living.

As a result, the South and West will continue to gain jobs, income and population – and greater representation in Washington as the North loses more seats in Congress.

Florida has been one of the big recipients of people seeking a better life. Population, jobs and income all have increased tremendously in Florida in the last half-century, as a result of flight from northern states.

But all is not perfect here. One in three Florida residents say they would leave if they could. Critics point out that Florida congestion is growing, the environment is suffering and the quality of life is changing.

Nevertheless, according to the Gallup poll numbers, people are more content living in Florida than the national average and less likely to want to move than residents of 30 other states.

— Joseph Santangelo is a former reporter for the Bergen Record newspaper in New Jersey. He has written for magazines in Connecticut and Massachusetts and worked in state government in Connecticut and New Jersey. He writes from Clearwater.

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