Debunking some new excuses for Minnesota’s loss of residents

Yesterday I wrote about net domestic migration into and out of Minnesota in response to an article in the Minnesota Reformer titled ‘Are Minnesotans really fleeing to low-tax states?’

State government is to blame for the other causes of out migration

In the article, Christopher Ingraham wrote:

…tax rates are far from the only factor affecting interstate migration decisions, and many economists say the link between taxes and moving is overstated: “Grossly exaggerated,” in the words of Michael Mazerov of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank. Researchers have found that costs of living, job opportunitiesrecreation, crime and weather and climate have a major influence on where people move.

I don’t deny that other factors are involved. As I noted in an email to Chris last week:

I would say that taxes are not the only reason people locate in a particular place but empirical research does show quite clearly that they are certainly a reason that people locate in a particular place. 

But this provides little comfort for Minnesotans concerned about this ongoing loss of residents to other parts of the United States. The state government exercises little control over factors such as “recreation,” and even so the 2023 U.S. News & World Report “Best States Rankings” study ranks our state 7th for ‘Natural Environment’ and we still have record numbers of people leaving. It exercises even less control over “weather and climate,” despite Gov. Walz’s bizarre claims to the contrary.

The state government exercises rather more control over the other factors; “cost of living, job opportunities, [and] crime.” But Minnesota scores poorly on these measures. Housing and child care are relatively expensive here, largely because of government actions; our state is one of only 13 not to have recovered its pre-pandemic peak of employment; and Minnesota’s crime rate is now higher than the national average. So, if you think these other factors drive some of that population outflow, I don’t disagree, and, as with high taxes, the poor performance of our state government is the culprit.

Why did Covid-19 make people want to avoid Minnesota especially?

Chris’ article made a couple of other points worth considering. He wrote that:

On top of all that, the COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching demographic consequences as people have reconsidered the relationship between where they live and where they work, in many cases severing it completely.

This is certainly true, but it begs the question of why, in these new circumstances, is Minnesota so relatively unattractive?

From “It’s just retirees” to “It’s just college students”

Chris also writes that:

State demographer Susan Brower points to another, often overlooked factor as a key driver of Minnesota migration: college decisions.

“Most migrants are in their late teens and 20s,” Brower said via email. “I think it shows the large share of migration that’s driven by college choices.”

Census data analyzed by Brower’s office shows that the migration gap among those age 15 to 19 is particularly steep, with thousands more people in that cohort moving away from Minnesota between 2015 and 2019. 

In my email to Chris last week, I responded to this point:

I’m not sure that is true. For example, in the most recent year the IRS has data for – 2020-2021, which I wrote about here – Minnesota lost residents, on net, in every single age category and the loss in those aged Under 26 was lower than in four of the six categories.

I would make three additional points: a) This marks a change from the usual argument I get that “Its people retiring to Florida.” b) What does this say about our colleges? c) You have to think also about the step beyond college, that first job. To some extent, I think, Minnesotans are going off to college elsewhere because they think it will be closer to that first job (or house they can afford).

And, no, this does not mean that the answer is for the state government to spend more money on higher education. According to the Urban Institute, in 2020 Minnesota ranked 18th for both Spending per FTE student and Spending per FTE student [excluding higher education tuition and fees]. We are already spending above the average.

Why is South Dakota seeing people move in?

Finally, Chris wrote that:

The Census data show that most Midwestern states have lost population due to domestic migration since 2020. Of the four states bordering Minnesota – Wisconsin, Iowa and the Dakotas – only South Dakota has brought in more people from other states than it lost since 2020. [Emphasis added]

Does anyone have any ideas what might be attracting people to South Dakota? Maybe it’s the weather?