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Will Massachusetts experience a weakened economy as researchers note a shrinking population? 

A U-Haul van ready to rent.
Ben Schumin
Creative Commons /
A U-Haul van ready to rent.

Analysts and policy makers are worried about a trend showing more people are leaving Massachusetts than being born or moving here. It looks like this started during the pandemic and is continuing. Chris Lisinksi of the State House News Service explains what is known about the people who are leaving and the impacts for the folks who remain.

Chris Lisinski, SHNS: We're still trying to get a clearer sense of exactly which kinds of people are leaving the state. The early research we had, as you mentioned, signals that this is a really recent trend. From 2010 to 2020, according to census data, the state's population increased, and in fact, we had a higher rate of growth than the nationwide median.

 So, it's only in the past few years of data that we've started to see shrinkage as far as the greater Boston area. One group that did its own research says the outflow is cutting across all income groups. It's not just high-income folks. It's not just low-income folks. It's effectively everyone. More people are leaving than are being born or coming here.
You know, that's a real long-term problem because that cuts into the tax base. So, policymakers have fewer people paying less in taxes they can rely on to fund government services.
And it also cuts into the workforce. We've heard so much in the past year or two years about a labor shortage, employers not able to find people to fill open positions. And when you've got working age population moving out of state, that just makes the problem even worse.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: Are other states seeing gains from Massachusetts outmigration, and are other states also losing residents?

Other states are. There's absolutely a national trend at play here where, in very broad terms, you know, states in the North and the East are seeing either population outflows or slowing population growth. Places to the South and West are seeing faster population growth. So, it is not just Massachusetts, but at least in recent years, Massachusetts has emerged as one of, probably about a dozen states or so, where the outmigration is the chief cause of the population shrinkage.

So, what are the reactions of lawmakers, and could population concerns impact Gov. Maura Healey's recently unveiled $4 billion housing bill?

You know, this is a topic that has really become marbled into most every policy debate up here on Beacon Hill. Think back to the tax relief package that Governor Healey signed a few weeks ago. And one chief aim of that was to make Massachusetts more affordable... to keep working people here in Massachusetts - stop them from fleeing to lower cost locations, and to make it more competitive for businesses and keep them set up in Massachusetts. So, more people come here to work. And it's the same thing with this new housing bond bill. A lot of it is aimed at generating new housing with a goal of helping people find affordable homes so they can put down roots.

The housing bond bill has several policy areas. What are some of the details there?

On the policy front a couple of the biggest ones are... authorization for a local option transfer tax. I think we spoke just a couple of weeks ago about proposals on this front. Amherst is one of about ten cities and towns that is already asking state permission to impose a higher tax rate on real estate sales and use the additional revenue to fund affordable housing. Governor Healey's come out in support of that, and in fact wants to give every city or town the option to do so without first seeking state permission.

Other things in this bill allow for more construction of accessory dwelling units. There's a huge investment in improving the state's public housing stock, getting all of that in better condition. There's language here, you know, trying to accelerate, permitting. It's really a wide-ranging package that reaches into a whole bunch of different areas of the housing industry.

And, Chris, how quickly do you expect lawmakers to act on this?

I wouldn't expect them to rush this one through just given the volume of it. You know, this is a $4.1 billion bond bill over five years with more than two dozen policy changes, including a pair of proposed tax credits, so I could see lawmakers taking their time with this. I don't think it's going to wait all the way until July 2024, but I think this is one where both branches are going to want to take a detailed look and make some changes to reflect their own visions for housing.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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