The numbers are alarming — on many levels.
From July 2021 to July 2022, more than 57,000 more people moved out of the state than into it, one of the highest rates of what is being called ‘domestic outmigration’ in the country. And if you go back to April 2020, the number soars beyond 110,000.
That’s a lot of people who decided they couldn’t make it in Massachusetts anymore, or didn’t want to try. And these numbers should get everyone’s attention, because these departures are not good for individual cities and towns, or for the Commonwealth’s technology-driven economy.
It’s enough of a problem that Gov. Maura Healey made it one of the focal points of her inaugural address last month, stating “this is greatest state in the union, but people are leaving at some of the highest rates in the country — giving up on the Massachusetts story.”
It’s possible that some people are giving up because of the cold (and we don’t even have as much of that as we used to), or the traffic (in the Boston area), or the decidedly liberal nature of the State House, or even the ‘millionare’s tax.’ This might explain why more than 20,000 of those who have left have moved to New Hampshire, where taxes are much lower and elected leaders are much more conservative.
But it seems clear that most are leaving because they simply can’t afford to live here anymore.
That’s especially true in the eastern part of the state, where taxes are sky-high, home prices are through the roof, and other costs, including childcare, are becoming increasingly prohibitive.
“Affordability in Massachusetts has dropped dramatically,” Nadia Evangelou, senior economist for the National Assoc. of Realtors, told the Boston Globe recently.
We have a few thoughts on this problem. First, state leaders need to do something to address the housing problem here. The term ‘affordable housing’ has a shifting definition in Massachusetts and other states where there are plentiful, attractive jobs, but however it is defined, the state simply needs to create more of it. If it doesn’t, more people will leave or, in the case of graduating college students, settle somewhere else.
In the meantime, economic-development leaders in Western Mass. should double down on their efforts to try to convince people that if they want to escape the high prices (if not the cold), they don’t have to leave the state; they just have to look west of Worcester.
Indeed, while some communities in this part of the state are expensive, most are quite reasonable. And there isn’t nearly as much traffic. And the costs of childcare are considerably lower. And with the advent of remote work, you can have all of this and still work for IT and financial-services companies based in Boston or Cambridge.
Those of us Western Mass. know all this, and most people living in Newton, Wellesley, or Lexington know as well, but it wouldn’t hurt for this region to market itself more aggressively, especially in the eastern part of the state.
Doing so would benefit not only the Western Mass. region, where many communities have lost population and professionals of all kinds are needed, but the state as well.
Indeed, until ways can be found to somehow make this state, and especially the Boston area, more affordable, we need to focus on ways to inspire people to move from one end of the state to the other, instead of out of it altogether.