Monday, June 27, 2011

Fact Or Fiction? New Jersey Brain Drain

Turn over enough rocks, you can find both brain drain and brain gain in any region. Such ambiguity sets the stage for data wars. Politicians squeeze the most out of the numbers. Occasionally, the press digs into claims:

"Republicans have been clear: we will not raise taxes on the most highly taxed people in America to pay for another wrongheaded decision by the Supreme Court," [State Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. ] said in a news release on May 24. "The state’s tax burden has, according to census figures released today, cost our state another 190,000 residents in 2009."

Is it true the state's famously high taxes are driving people away? PolitiFact New Jersey decided to check.

Linking taxes to outmigration is a common gambit. I associate this ideological thinking with Ronald Reagan taking aim at bloated government as the cause of economic crisis. Government is the problem.

PolitiFact New Jersey doesn't have any problem debunking Kean's salvo. It does find some kernels of truth in the statement. I won't be so kind. Kean is lying. The defense from the Senate Republicans is pathetic:

Adam Bauer, a spokesman for the Senate Republicans, said Kean’s statement was partly based on a May 23 article in the Asbury Park Press. The story, citing new data from the U.S. Census Bureau, stated that nearly 190,000 New Jersey residents left the state in 2009. ...

... Bauer said Kean’s assertion about the tax burden "certainly wasn’t intended as a monolithic statement," and that any attempt to construe it as such "is just splitting hairs."

He provided no other evidence to prove taxes drove tens of thousands of New Jerseyans out of the state. "The senator has known people" that left the state because of taxes, Bauer said. "Everyone has anecdotal evidence."

"If you take issue with the [statement’s] wording," he said, "I apologize."

About 190,000 people did leave New Jersey in 2009. Kean asserts that all of them left because of the "tax burden". That's absurd and Bauer knows it. But Bauer's job is to polish the turd.

Unfortunately, most discussion about brain drain engages in similar hyperbole. The sky is falling everywhere. Anecdotes trump statistics. Thus, the following from Michigan's State Demographer (Kenneth Darga) is surprising:

Six Lowest Rates of Out-Migration in the U.S. for 2004-05

1.8% Texas
1.8% Wisconsin
1.8% Pennsylvania
1.9% Michigan
2.0% Ohio
2.1% California

See the positive correlation between state tax regime and outmigration? I don't, either.

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