I’m confused by the data that was released by the US Census Bureau, yesterday.

Although Boston (Suffolk County) lost population (35,515), Massachusetts gained population, by almost the same amount (36,611).

Is it a simple redistribution? Probably not. People moving into the suburbs didn’t come (directly) from Boston, I don’t think. We’re not migrating birds, I’m saying.

I haven’t seen any data on immigration vs. emigration in Massachusetts. I did read something a couple months ago which said that the increase in foreigners (real foreigners) coming to Massachusetts wasn’t enough to offset the number of natives leaving (fleeing?) Massachusetts, but I don’t know if that was a study or just someone’s opinion.

So, here’s the question: Are people actually leaving Boston, or are they just never coming here?

Remember (you can’t say it enough), while Boston lost population, the state as a whole gained population. So, before you get all bent out of shape about the high cost of living in our state, you have to figure out, why would the CITY lose population?

The suburbs have had huge increases in the cost of housing, too, yet people are moving there (or, at least, not leaving in large numbers).

(I have to point out, as I often due, that it costs less today than it did five years ago to own a house, because interest rates have gone down more than enough to offset any increases in mortgage payments due to higher home prices.)

So, inside Boston, who is leaving, and/or, who isn’t moving here?

I don’t know. More detailed analysis is required. Is the “exodus” of people coming from Hyde Park, Roslindale, and West Roxbury? If so, is that anything new? How many people moved into those areas, over the past decade, or two, or three, to begin with? Is it just a continuation of this trend? Are people moving from those outer-areas (I call them the netherlands) to the suburbs? Is no one replacing them?

What about South Boston? Here’s an area where many young professionals have moved over the past decade, replacing families who have sold their multi-family homes and moved to Quincy, Braintree, and beyond. (Because the children in these families attended private and parochial schools, there would be no way to measure this by a drop in public school attendance).

Are we losing people in the downtown area? We can’t be. There is more housing in the downtown area, than there was a decade ago, so we know people (couples) are moving into Boston Proper (Back Bay, Beacon Hill and the South End).

What about graduating college students? Are students graduating and leaving Boston, instead of getting jobs and settling down?

Aha. Maybe. First, (and I keep bringing this up, although no one seems to think it’s a logical idea), have colleges reduced the number of enrolled students over the past half-decade, and, if so, does that mean we’re now seeing the result, on the other side? Are there less graduates to replenish our population?

Second, are graduates moving elsewhere, because 1) they couldn’t find jobs here? and/or, 2) of the high cost of housing, and/or 3) of a combination of both?

I’m skeptical that a college student would live here for four years, and endure the cost of renting, only to graduate and suddenly go, “oh, it’s so expensive here, I’m moving to Paducah, Kentucky”. If anything, they’d say, “oh, I can’t get a job because every large employer has cut back on hiring, and BankBoston/Gillette/JohnHancock/Fidelity have reduced the number of employees in Boston, so I’ll have to move somewhere else”.

The other idea I’ve had, and again, no one thinks it’s relevant, is that we might just be losing people to death and old age (known as a “natural decrease”). You would assume that new arrivals would offset this, but I’m not so sure.

Another question: Suffolk County includes Boston, but also Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop. Did we lose people from the city of Boston, or from the other towns?

Here is a list of counties with the greatest drop in population over the past five years, percentage-wise, according to the US Census Bureau.

Suffolk County, MA
San Francisco County, CA
Hamilton County, OH
Cuyahoga County, OH
Allegheny County, PA
Philadelphia County, PA
Wayne County, MI
Baltimore city, MD
Erie County, NY
Milwaukee County, WI
Cook County, IL
San Mateo County, CA
St. Louis County, MO
Hudson County, NJ
Jefferson County, AL
Middlesex County, MA

Now, some of those (namely Suffolk County & San Francisco County) have notoriously high home prices; the others, less-so. I’ve never heard of people lamenting the high cost of living in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin and/or Jefferson County, Alabama.

So, something else is happening, or it’s a situation where you have to look at each county, on a case-by-case basis.

Here is a list of counties with the greatest increase in population over the past five years, percentage-wise, according to the US Census Bureau.

Palm Beach County, FL
Fulton County, GA
Hillsborough County, FL
Orange County, FL
Mecklenburg County, NC
Kern County, CA
San Bernardino County, CA
San Joaquin County, CA
Maricopa County, AZ
Hidalgo County, TX
Wake County, NC
Gwinnett County, GA
Clark County, NV
Riverside County, CA
Will County, IL
Collin County, TX

Do you see a trend? Yes, people are moving south. In half the cases, people are moving to warmer climates, to areas known to be popular with the retired.

However, did these people move from Boston (not Massachusetts)? Not likely; if anything, they moved from Massachusetts, from the suburbs, to Florida, Georgia, and Arizona. So, Boston’s drop is not a result of old people going south.

Mecklenburg County, NC (including Charlotte, NC) and Wake County, NC (Raleigh, NC) are another matter. These areas have become very popular with people, because of the great job opportunities available (and, the relatively-low cost of housing).

So, what do I think?

I think a bunch of people who would otherwise be living in downtown Boston have moved into the suburbs (think “urban sprawl”).

I think “natural decrease” (more deaths than births) is also partially responsible for the drop in population.

I think fewer college students chose to stay in Boston, after graduating, over the past five years, because of the economy and lack of job opportunities.

I think the Census Bureau may have undercounted Boston’s population (you have to remember, it’s an estimate, not a census – they didn’t have anyone fill out forms or send out workers to count people, that’s only done once every ten years), and that, as happened previously, our population numbers will be adjusted, upward.

I think some of the young, urban professionals who could have chosen to move to Boston have chosen instead to go to other metropolitan areas, such as New York City and Washington DC, and some have chosen to go to North Carolina, where the jobs are plentiful and the weather is fine.

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Updated: January 2018

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