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BU researcher, Pioneer Institute discuss outmigration trends in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts statehouse in Boston.
WAMC/Ian Pickus
The Massachusetts statehouse in Boston.

Outmigration from Massachusetts is “accelerating at an alarming rate,” with drivers like housing and healthcare costs playing a role, among other factors.

Outmigration from Massachusetts is “accelerating at an alarming rate,” with drivers like housing and healthcare costs playing a role, among other factors. That is according to a team of researchers at Boston University that has spent at least nine months looking into the trend.

The group was made up of BU master lecturer of finance Mark Williams and two graduate students, who poured over data that included statistics from the IRS and U.S. Census. 

“In every age category, there's more people actually, basically leaving, with the exception of under 26, than are actually moving in - and that's concerning from a population standpoint and it’s also concerning from a workforce composition standpoint,” Williams said during a presentation on the findings, referencing a slide examining 2020-21 age group data.

He dived into the findings during a presentation hosted by the Pioneer Institute, a Massachusetts think tank that conducts and highlights research on various facets of the state's economy and more.

Among the study’s core findings, Williams’s team says that since 2013, net outmigration for Massachusetts has increased 1,100% to over 39,000 people.

They also believe outmigration has cost the state $4.3 billion in adjusted gross income and over $213 million in income tax revenue in the 2020-21 tax year. 

It’s also having a significant impact on the state’s workforce.

“Every state in the nation itself has an ebb and flow of migration, but when you see a population not growing at even the rate of the US population - that's Massachusetts - and on top of it, you see a workforce declining - that's like in Massachusetts - we've seen a drop of 96,000 workers since 2018. That's concerning,” he said. “Because really, what drives this economy in Massachusetts, of course - it is a knowledge-based economy. So, if our workforce and population is not growing, then we can’t expect to have future economic growth.”

The numbers come at a time when Massachusetts continues to see population growth numbers fall behind the national average.

The study noted how in 2023, the state’s population neared 7 million, with what researchers considered “an anemic growth rate of .27 percent,” half of the national average. 

The study also found the age group leaving in the largest numbers is not retirees, as you might think, but, in fact, people ages 26 through 34. From seemingly 2012 onward, that group has been the largest to depart.

In terms of where they are going, Williams says a number of those who leave Massachusetts still stay in New England.

A snapshot of looking at trends from 2022 found 52 percent stay in New England, with New Hampshire and Connecticut alone accounting for almost 40 percent or nearly 24,000 people.

A breakdown of the top "outbound states" for those leaving Massachusetts in 2022.
Boston University Questrom School of Business
BU Study - Massachusetts Outmigration April 24, 2024
A breakdown of the top "outbound states" for those leaving Massachusetts in 2022. New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Florida make up the top three destinations.

The highest non-New England state to soak up Massachusetts residents was Florida with 15 percent, or over 9,000. Maine, North Carolina and Washington were also among the top 11 destinations listed in the study.

“What we saw - there were 10 attributes in particular, and of those 10 attributes, other states, the move-in states, did better than Massachusetts in 7 out of those 10 attributes - whether it was income or healthcare, housing costs, weather -obviously something that policymakers can't change - but housing burden, crime rate and property tax - all these other states did much better in regard to scoring,” Williams said.

Williams’s presentation mentioned potential solutions, including building up affordable housing or at the very least, relaxing zoning regulations to allow for it.

But as policymakers explore ways to get on top of the outmigration trend, the professor suggested appealing to the state’s many college students could be a good step to take.

“Our competitive advantage is that we have over 300,000 students that learn here,” he said. “Many of them should want to stay here, once they graduate. Let’s increase the opportunity for them, I mean, I'll just throw this out - how about an incentive system where you'll get a discount if you go to a state university here in Massachusetts with the understanding that you will stay for four or six years and work.”

“I don't want to carve up and create policy here,” he continued. “But there [are] ways in which to make - basically incentives for our students to stay once they graduate.”

More details on the study can be found here.