Waite: My friends and I are here to stay

FILE - Andrew Waite teaches his daughter Alexandria, 4, how to ski at Royal Mountain Ski Area in Caroga Lake in December 2021.
FILE - Andrew Waite teaches his daughter Alexandria, 4, how to ski at Royal Mountain Ski Area in Caroga Lake in December 2021.
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WEIGHING IN – Ever since I moved back to upstate New York in the summer of 2021, I’ve heard an awful lot about “outmigration,” the jargony term used to describe how people are leaving the state by the tens of thousands.

In fact, over the last two years, New York lost 651,742 residents to other states, according to a December report by the Empire Center.

So, were my family and I complete fools for moving across the country from Seattle, leaving a state like Washington, which has no personal state income tax, for a state like New York, which has some of the highest personal income tax rates in the country?

Andrew Waite - Weighing InI hear the snickers.

Add in the fact that my mother, now 72, relocated from Albany to Naples, Florida, just weeks after her only child moved with her two young grandkids to about a mile from her old house, and it certainly started to feel as though my wife and I were Northwest sockeye swimming against the current.

A year and a half later, I no longer feel that way, even as the issue of outmigration continues to be a dominant conversation in the state. Now, I actually think my family — both my immediate family moving in and my mother and stepfather moving out — is part of a trend that, perhaps surprisingly, could point to a promising future for upstate New York.

I hear those snickers again.

Look, I know what the numbers show. We’ve all seen the U.S. Census data detailing how New York led the way in population decline last year, both by total and percentage, decreasing by 180,341 (-0.9%).

We’ve also all seen the data showing that the general migration trends in the United States point to people fleeing high-tax states in favor of low-tax states, with Florida leading the way last year, gaining 1.9% in population.

These population shifts have led many to conclude that high taxes are the reason people have left New York. That hypothesis absolutely has merit. While we don’t have strong survey data asking people why they moved, there have been some studies showing that taxes are a likely motivator.

For instance, a March 2022 Zogby poll asked 1,000 people whether they were thinking about moving, and of the 39% who said they were looking to move, 36.7% said high taxes were the top reason.

But even if taxes are prompting people to pack up, there is reason to believe this isn’t a long-term problem, especially not for upstate communities.

That’s because we need to consider who is leaving the state. Again, there’s not great data yet, but I think we will come to learn New York’s accelerated population decline in the last two years is largely a result of retirees moving south.

What makes me say this? We know New York’s population — like the population around the country — is aging. In 2019, New York’s number of residents ages 65 and older grew 26% over the prior decade compared to an overall population that grew just 3% during that time. The aging population makes sense because Baby Boomers are the second-largest generation behind Millennials.

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Boomers are well into retirement age. And where do New York retirees tired of cold winters and wanting to draw from their 401(k)s without facing a state income tax penalty go? To sunny Florida.

This southward migration pattern has existed for generations. Why, then, the sudden spike in people moving? During the pandemic, there was wide-scale retirement that happened all at once. And, so, it stands to reason, a lot of people moved to states like Florida all at once.

Count my mom and stepfather among the boomers trading snow boots for sunglasses. They said while taxes didn’t cause them to go from being snowbirds to full-time Floridians, lower taxes factored in as a bonus.

Perhaps a lot of New York retirees made a similar calculation during the pandemic.

It’s worth pausing here to note that, of course, reasons to move are nuanced, complex and personal. And in reality all the talk of outmigration, significant as it may be, is still largely happening on the margins. Plus, from 2010 to 2020 the state’s population grew by 4.2% to 20.2 million.

In addition, it’d be foolish to suggest retirees accounted for everyone who has left in the last two years. Some of the state’s highest earners cut and run, too, establishing residency in lower-taxing states to save significant amounts of money, especially after income tax rates were raised in 2021. This trend represents a real problem that the state needs to consider, because as high earners leave, those of us who remain bear more of an already high tax burden.

Worrying, too, is that New York’s corporate tax rules are some of the least hospitable in the country, while a state like Florida’s rules are some of the friendliest. So there’s definitely incentive for companies and their workers to consider a relocation south -– all realities New York can’t ignore.
Still, there are many dynamics that actually make this moment ripe for communities in upstate New York. And, in fact, there may be reason to be hopeful.

If Boomers make up the second-largest generation, their kids, Millennials, make up the largest. And as Boomers are in or entering retirement, Millennials are in or entering the primes of their careers.

In years past, this would have meant staying in big cities for big jobs. That’s no longer a necessity. You can now live in Albany or Alplaus or some other small town and work for a company based in Seattle — as my wife does. You can be a lawyer upstate employed by a downstate firm, like one of my childhood friends who lives two blocks from me.

Data show much of the migration we saw during the pandemic wasn’t as much a move away from high-tax states to low-tax states as it was a move from big cities to smaller cities or more suburban areas. New York’s recent outmigration was fueled primarily by New York City. While Census data show New York City lost 3.5% of its population between July 2020 and June 2021, the rest of New York lost a little less than 14,000 people over that period after gaining nearly 195,000 (or 1.7%) between 2010 and 2020. Meanwhile, populations increased in several upstate counties that had seen significant population downturns in the prior decade.

That means many people fleeing New York City for more space during the pandemic moved north instead of south.

It’s worth noting that if you’re an office worker in Manhattan and you relocate to, say, Miami simply for your convenience and keep your same job, you’re still going to pay New York state income taxes (though you would no longer pay city taxes). So if you’re looking for a little more land but don’t want to leave your New York job, it very likely makes more sense to stay in a region where you could drive or take the train into the office on occasion.

This makes upstate communities prime for becoming work-from-home hubs. And this fact, on top of an already promising Capital Region job market that features skilled work in nanotechnology, pharmaceuticals, engineering and public policy, means the arrow may very well be pointing upward in upstate New York.

Over the past year and a half, I’ve met many families with stories similar to my own. They’re on my block and in my neighborhood. They are other parents at my daughter’s school and son’s daycare. We left cities like Seattle and New York, D.C. and San Francisco, New Orleans and Atlanta.

We left, in part, because life is more affordable in upstate NY than it is in a big city, even if the income tax rate is higher. (My family’s mortgage here is roughly $1,100 less a month than it was in Seattle, despite buying into a surprisingly strong market here. Cost of living — from gas to groceries to daycare — is significantly less, as well.)

But more than affordability, we came to raise our families here. And that means we want investment in our communities. We’re OK with paying taxes if we see return on the investment. (Not that we want taxes to spike any time soon.) But we want bike lanes and new sidewalks, schools that are getting attention and streets being kept safe.

Of course, Millennials aren’t the only people who feel this way, and obviously it’s not like older people who leave the state don’t care about their neighbors or their communities.

A lot of people share these values. But what’s different now is that if not for the pandemic I’m not sure many of the younger families I know who share these values would have actually made the move to come here. Such a migration would have remained a far-off thought, almost an ideal based in nostalgia. That means our tax dollars and other money we spend in the region would have stayed put, too.

Now that we’re here, we’ve bought in, and we’re generally OK with continuing to buy in. We don’t just want to financially support our communities, but we’re glad to help others. A 2019 Pew Research Center study found younger adults are more supportive of expanding assistance to people in need than are older adults. For instance, 46% of those ages 18 to 29 support greater government assistance, compared with 35% of those 65 and older.

In no way do I begrudge people who want to leave New York to pay less in tax — or think that they don’t care about others — but I’m also proud to live in a state with a progressive tax structure that allows it to offer better support to low-income residents than other states. Many of my friends agree.

It’s all part of buying into the communities we care about — and it’s an added bonus that we can do so while spending less overall than we used to in the cities we left.

It’s a win-win, and it’s a big reason why a lot of us are here to stay.

Columnist Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.

Categories: Andrew Waite, News, News, Opinion, Opinion, Schenectady County



Andrew, I’m guessing you know that you’re following in the tradition of another Washington State transplant, Paul Grondahl, who made the trek from Puget Sound to U. at Albany for his graduate studies and stayed on to become (by consensus, I’m guessing) the Capital District’s best feature story writer of the modern era. Beyond happy that you’ve done so. Your reporting and analytic reflection are a breath of fresh air and routinely among the most gutsy, well-researched, & thought-provoking I’ve found while pouring through regional newspapers in the recent past.

Great story interspersed with some personal observations and actual facts about outward migration. So with all the media hype and political boasting about people leaving New York 14,000 actually left New York State outside NYC. And where did many of those NYC dwellers move to? Well, first-handed observation tells us that many of them moved to New Jersey, Connecticut, and equally high tax states. Our son and family moved from Brooklyn to North Jersey 10 yrs. ago. Over the last two years, their town filled with people moving there to escape NYC living on top of each other in fear of COVID. Now, our son lives in Central Jersey, working totally remotely for a NYC company. Their Central Jersey towns continue to fill with former NYC residents who work from home in suburban America. As for Florida, my wife and I, in our 70s, have no desire to live in or visit Florida. As each year goes by, neither of us can tolerate the heat and humidity of Upstate NY summers. So live in Florida with year-round indoor cabin fever? No thank you. Plus many of our lifelong friends who thought Florida life would be a paradise for them, are back here in the Capital District after missing family and life-long friends. New York’s taxes help support programs that allow people to get a start in life. They sure did for us in the 60s and 70s as we built our family and life. We are OK giving back via the state taxes to now help others benefit from the tax-supported programs. And those boomers who criticize NY taxes? They have a choice. They can via their vote cause local municipal and school taxes to be lower. But most don’t. Then complain about the taxes. Great story Andrew. Thanks for bringing attention to this.

Bill Marincic

Well, you left a state with out-of-control drug use, homelessness, crime, poverty, and constant rain to come to NY. You also left a state that is probably more liberal than this one which is hard to believe. I would say don’t bring your awful liberal thinking and writing here but I guess I’m too late. In another 16 months, I will be in a state with no state tax, good weather, and the best thing of all, it’s conservative.

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