The New Yorkers’ Tax Flight Story Is a Myth: Joe Mysak


(Bloomberg) -- Everyone’s moving out of New York because the taxes are too high.

You’ve probably been reading a lot of articles about that since the U.S. Census Bureau came out with its state migration statistics at the end of 2019. They showed that between April 1, 2010 and July 1, 2019, New York lost 1.4 million people to domestic net migration. That means 1.4 million more people left New York for elsewhere than arrived from other states. (New York’s total population went up, slightly, over the decade thanks to foreign immigration and births.)

But did they move because of taxes, as some partisans argue? There’s no evidence to support that conclusion. The Census Bureau doesn’t post surveyors at the border to interview the departing. So anyone who writes that is just making it up.

Personally, I don’t know anyone who’s moved away because of taxes. Would you really quit your job and uproot your family in one of the most traumatic of life’s events, for, what, a few thousand bucks? Don’t be absurd. Even with the cap on state and local tax deductions, you have to be pretty far up the food chain in order for taxes to make a real difference. You’re talking about an extremely thin slice of the demographic. And we won’t know the impact of the SALT cap until the end of the year.

So why do people move? They move for new or relocated jobs, and they move for retirement, which I don’t include under tax avoidance, but perhaps snow avoidance. Some move for other lifestyle changes, including lowering their cost of living. Taxes are pretty far down the list, the last I checked.

Sure, Florida has no state income tax, and attracted almost 20% of New York’s net migration in 2018. I have a feeling that has less to do with taxes and more to do with normal retirement.

Fact is, more people have been leaving New York than coming in for decades. New York lost 1.6 million people between 2000 and 2010, and 1.3 million in the prior decade. Going back to 1970 to 1980, New York’s net migration was 2.4 million, according to the Empire Center for Public Policy, a right-leaning think-tank, citing Census data.

It doesn’t make sense that these New Yorkers have been fleeing high taxes and evil blue-state governance for all those years, as the more politically-minded commentators would have you believe.

I have another theory (and, admittedly, it’s a theory not proof). I think that one of New York’s chief exports is people. The state, and more particularly the city of New York, is the capital of advertising, fashion, culture, the arts, finance, publishing. And so people migrate domestically, and immigrate from abroad, to New York, and learn from it and marinate in it and otherwise take what they can from it, and at some point they move on. Taxes have almost nothing to do with it.

--with assistance from Jonathan Levin

(Joe Mysak is a municipal market columnist who writes for Bloomberg. His opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Bloomberg LP and its owner, and his observations are not intended as investment advice.)

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