October 1 2003

Pennsylvania is losing people! More people are moving out of the state than are moving in. IssuesPA takes a closer look.

(October 2003) The United States Census Bureau recently released new data tracking who moved where between 1995 and 2000. For Pennsylvania, the results are discouraging. They pinpoint concerns that, if not addressed, have major implications for the future. IssuesPA examined findings specific to Pennsylvania.

People move. In society today, that’s not unusual, although how and where Pennsylvanians move is unusual compared with other states. Between 1995 and 2000, about 4.2 million Pennsylvanians - 36% of the population over age five - changed their residence. A high number of movers? Actually, the percentage is the lowest of any state in the nation. Of the 4.2 million people who moved, the vast majority - 3.4 million - moved from one part of Pennsylvania to another. Another 800,000 moved to another state, while 669,000 moved here from other states. For Pennsylvania, that’s a net loss of 131,000 people.

Between 1995 and 2000 Pennsylvania had a net population gain from only seven states. The vast majority of those gains were from New York (45,000) and New Jersey (22,000). Most of Pennsylvania’s net migration went south. The top five states receiving a net gain in people from Pennsylvania were Florida (48,262), North Carolina (25,272), Georgia (14,813), Virginia (14,783), and South Carolina (13,749). (See Scorecard: Domestic Migration To and From PA)

What ages move most?

To gain a better perspective on who’s moving, IssuesPA examined data based on the age of the people migrating to and from Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania’s net decrease of 131,000 was spread across most age brackets, although the largest loss was people in their 20s. The difference in people in their 20s leaving Pennsylvania and those coming in accounted for over half of the net loss. (Read: Young Talent Needed in PA)

Most other age groups showed decreases as well. Only the youngest, under 19, showed a net increase (1,275). The oldest, 75 and older, diminished less than other age groups in terms of numbers (-4,790) and as a percent of the population by age bracket (0.5%).

Offsetting some of the loss to other states is the migration of people from other countries to Pennsylvania. Although the Commonwealth’s foreign migration rate is lower than most other states, 165,231 immigrants did come to Pennsylvania between 1995 and 2000.

What does this mean for Pennsylvania’s future?

Migration - whether domestic or foreign in origin -- is an important aspect of demographics. It indicates how people feel about where they live and their perceptions of other places. Perceived economic and social condition -- even the weather -- can be big factors. People express these preferences by voting with their feet. What’s the impact?

  • Pennsylvania’s Economy: A persistent loss of "twentysomethings" over time doesn’t bode well for the future workforce. As the baby boomers retire, there may not be enough people among the next generation to supply the workers needed to build Pennsylvania’s economic future.
  • Community vitality: Losing younger workers means losing future taxpayers. Losing older workers to retirement also means losing taxpayers, because most retirement income in Pennsylvania is exempt from state and local income taxes. Fewer taxpayers means increased pressure on remaining taxpayers to pay for needed services.
  • Education: It’s likely that "twentysomethings" with higher levels of education are more able to move. They take with them a significant education investment. And they leave behind a smaller talent base. On the other hand, slow or no growth places a comparatively smaller burden on Pennsylvania’s basic education system, compared to growing states.
  • Health care: Although an exceptionally large number of older Pennsylvanians don’t and won’t move, those who do likely are better off financially, leaving a greater proportion of lower income older persons behind. And retiring baby boomers will require more and increasingly expensive government-assisted services such as health care, placing an even larger burden on the social service system.

Pennsylvania’s policymakers must heed these migration trends. The state’s 21st century economic competitiveness is at stake.