There’s a lot of hand-wringing in the Land of Steady Habits over a new Gallup poll that shows just under half of Connecticut residents — 49 percent — would flee their home state if they could.
We come in at No. 2, barely behind Illinois, where exactly half the population dreams of departing. Lowest on the list are Maine, Montana and Hawaii, where less than a quarter of residents say they’d head for the borders if they could.
Gallup: States Where The Most Residents Would Leave If They Could (%)
- Illinois 50
- Connecticut 49
- Maryland 47
- Nevada 43
- Rhode Island 42
Gallup: States Where The Fewest Residents Would Leave If They Could (%)
- Montana 23
- Hawaii 23
- Maine 23
- Oregon 24
- New Hampshire 24
The tax-conscious business lobby would have us believe our problem is largely about high levies, regulations and road congestion. Yes, of course, Connecticut has some of the highest costs, in fact we rank No. 6 overall in cost of living according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
But is that really why 49 percent of people want to leave? Nope. Hawaii is the most expensive state by far. What we have here is a much more complex picture, a conundrum with a contradiction and a story that might not be so bad for Connecticut.
Thousands of people who head for the exit are hauling their young, professional, mobile butts to Brooklyn, Manhattan, Boston, DC, Seattle, San Francisco and Atlanta — metro areas that are not known for their low cost, and except for Atlanta, are among the most expensive places to exist on the planet.
Having been here for a lot of years, I certainly recall a time when people left for the Carolinas and other low-cost destinations, especially in times when jobs were shrinking. But lately I can hardly think of anyone who left Connecticut other than to stake out a big metro — and that includes several who are well into middle age.
So from that viewpoint it looks like Connecticut’s problem is our lack of urban vibrancy — a major metro area that doesn’t have to fork over $100 million in taxpayer graft to attract apartment dwellers, concert venues and university campuses.
In fact, when we look at the actual numbers of people uprooting from Connecticut to other states, New York is by far the biggest destination. And get this news bulletin: They’re not moving to low-cost Utica or Syracuse.
Thus the conundrum. Depending on who they are, people want to flee Connecticut because costs are too high; because urban energy and vibrancy, which usually means higher cost, is too low; because the job they want is elsewhere; because it’s too cold; or because they’re miserable wherever they live. And we can’t do anything for the cold and miserable.
So the issue comes down to value. It’s neither about cost nor urban vibrancy, but rather, how you feel about what you’re getting back in exchange for your $1,800-a-month rent or mortgage payment, your half-hour commute, your 45-hours a week of toil, your hard-earned engineering degree.
States are a poor measure if we want to gauge lifestyle choices. Massachusetts, for example, is 2 percent less expensive than Connecticut according to the federal government measure. But metro Boston, where more people want to be, is more expensive than metro Hartford or New Haven. Likewise, in Illinois, where the highest percentage of people want out, are they eager to abandon Chicago or corn country? Maybe they should just switch places for half of each year.
Connecticut’s problem is this: If you’re willing to live in a 700-square-foot apartment for 40 percent of your income and travel 45 minutes to a job where there are lots of people like you with hip glasses and the whole world is at your sidewalk — there are better places to be than here.
And if you’re willing to live in a region with no great urban centers nearby, where the political and cultural climate is far more conservative but you can buy a big house with a greener lawn or maybe a few acres of woods — there are better places to be than here.
As for the number who told Gallup they are at least somewhat likely to actually pack out in the next 12 months, Connecticut is closer to the middle of the pack — 16 percent, compared with a national average of 14 percent, well within the margin of error.
And as for the actual number of folks who move out compared with the number moving in, Connecticut’s departure rate is far smaller than that of Illinois and New York. It was also a smaller departure rate than Minnesota had in 2012, and that state had only 25 percent who wanted out in the Gallup poll.
Cutting through the clutter of numbers, the Gallup poll measured this, when it comes to Connecticut: A majority don’t think it’s perfect. But for an even larger majority, it could still be very good.