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January 17, 2022 Editor’s Take

Bordonaro: CT’s population is growing. Will it last?

PHOTO | CONTRIBUTED A United Van Lines moving crew prepares to load boxes into a truck.

An analysis by truck rental company U-Haul recently named Connecticut the 18th-most moved-to state in the country in 2021, a dramatic rise from its No. 43 ranking the year before.

In another analysis, moving and relocation company United Van Lines said that more people moved out of Connecticut than moved in last year, concluding 60% of moves to or from the state were outbound.

Meantime, the U.S. Census Bureau recently published data showing Connecticut lost a net 347 residents between April 1, 2020 and July 1, 2021. However, measured over a traditional one-year period, between July 1, 2020 and July 1, 2021, Connecticut recorded a net population gain of 5,337 residents, which represented a 0.1% increase.

Greg Bordonaro

Are you confused yet?

Over the past two years much attention has been paid to population trends as we try to better understand how the pandemic is affecting where and how people want to live and work.

Several data points have been used by the media, politicians and others to try to shed light on what’s happening in Connecticut, which for a decade or longer has struggled to grow its population.

Which data are reliable? And why do the numbers matter in the first place? Those are good questions to ask.

Population numbers are an important economic indicator. People move for many reasons (to be closer to family, for a change in lifestyle or climate, etc.) but many individuals, particularly young professionals, are attracted to cities and states with vibrant, growing economies that offer job opportunities and relative affordability.

That’s likely part of the reason why three southern states — Florida (220,890), Texas (170,307) and Arizona (93,026) — experienced the largest net domestic migration gains over the past year, and high-cost states like New York, California and Illinois saw the largest overall population declines.

This north-to-south migration has now been occurring for years. (Retiring Baby Boomers who want warmer weather and lower taxes are also likely significant contributors to this trend.)

Connecticut’s lack of meaningful population growth over the last decade — the Census said recently we added a paltry 31,847 residents between 2010 and 2020 — has been a hot political issue, with some Republicans, economists and private-sector leaders often blaming the state’s poor business climate, high taxes and high costs.

Over the past year-plus, Gov. Ned Lamont has tried to turn that narrative on its head, as anecdotal and some empirical evidence pointed to Connecticut becoming an attractive place for people looking to flee crowded cities and other locales during the pandemic.

The Democratic governor even held a press conference in Oct. 2020, standing in front of a U-Haul truck and touting that moving vans were turning around and heading toward Connecticut. He used significantly rising home sale prices and a spike in address-change requests submitted to the U.S. Postal Service as evidence that Connecticut was in demand.

With 2022 being a key election year, you will likely see population data used as a political talking point.

What’s the reality? Part of that depends on which data you use and trust.

We live in an age of information and disinformation. Just about anyone these days can go online and find data that proves a point, whether it’s legitimate or not.

That’s the blessing and curse of the internet.

Here’s the bottom line: It’s safe to say Connecticut has gained population during the pandemic. U-Haul and United Van Lines, which issue their reports annually and are quoted by media across the country, are providing a snapshot of their own internal data, but the U.S. Census Bureau is the official population scorekeeper.

Census data show that Connecticut lost population during the first few months of the pandemic (from April 1, 2020 to July 1, 2020) then rebounded and gained a net 5,337 residents over the next 12 months (from July 1, 2020 to July 1, 2021).

We now have just over 3.6 million residents in the state, according to the Census.

Our population of both domestic and international migrants grew, which is a good sign. We lost ground in organic growth — there were 4,975 more deaths than births in the state.

What’s less clear is where domestic migrants came from. There was lots of talk about New Yorkers moving to Connecticut during the pandemic but the Census didn’t provide a breakdown of state-to-state moves.

While representing only a small percentage gain, Connecticut’s population increase was noteworthy, especially when you consider our neighbors — New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island — all lost ground.

The harder question: How do we make these numbers stick?

The pandemic has highlighted Connecticut’s advantages: it’s centrally located between Boston and New York City, yet a much more affordable option; the state offers a suburban lifestyle that’s been in demand for the past two years; we also have high-quality schools, universities, industries and companies in addition to a well-educated population.

As we head into a new legislative session and a gubernatorial election, policymakers must focus on ways to press these advantages while also addressing our weaknesses, including high costs of living, taxes and energy, and a regulatory environment not always viewed favorably by the private sector.

The reality is we’ve struggled to create quality jobs in this state for more than decade. Connecticut still had not regained the jobs lost during the Great Recession when the pandemic hit.

Now the hole is even deeper. Since the start of the pandemic, our labor force has shrunk by about 99,000 workers, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, and our 6% November unemployment rate is well above the current 3.9% national average.

People follow high-paying career opportunities.

Long term, a one-year population gain means nothing, but Connecticut has assets to continue the forward momentum.

Let’s see if we can take better advantage of them.

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