Does Connecticut have a demographic life-cycle?

What if there was a pattern to the way people moved into and out of Connecticut? Identifying such a pattern would help us understand the strengths and weaknesses of our state. Based on some aggregate data and anecdotal observations, I have a guess.

Does your experience confirm or contrast with my proposal? Please let me know.

My hypothesis goes like this. Connecticut children finish high school or college and many of them leave the state to continue their education, start their careers or lower their cost of living.

It is perfectly normal that some students might continue their education elsewhere. However, we shouldn’t be satisfied with the other two reasons many young people leave. Connecticut suffers from insufficient opportunity at the entry level, with many employers unable to take a risk on untested new employees. Because there isn’t a lot of competition for workers at this stage, pay doesn’t exactly match cost of living, making Connecticut seem extra expensive for young professionals. The high cost of living also contributes to the reluctance of companies to hire entry-level here. Given the choice it makes more sense to take those risks where they will cost less.

Of course there are counterexamples. Not everyone fits into this neat mental model. My family is one of those examples. But even the counterexamples point to the important factors.

I’ve been in Connecticut a few months shy of a decade. My wife grew up here. She has strong ties and a high concentration of family members. Close family ties and other forms of social capital can supercede and ultimately compensate for higher costs and fewer opportunities.

Unfortunately, as people leave Connecticut their social ties weaken, meaning social capital will matter for fewer and fewer people as they consider where to live.

The second phase

A decade or more later, young families return – or come to Connecticut for the first time. The families that arrive usually share a few characteristics. They are successful enough to afford to “buy in” to Connecticut and they usually bring children in tow. It would be fascinating to discover how many families arriving in Connecticut bring a child between the ages of 3 and 6. Connecticut is an attractive place to raise a family, but it is not an option available to everyone because of the higher relative costs.

These successful people often continue their success to the highest levels. Indeed, Connecticut grows millionaires. Only a small minority ever reach that level, but the share is higher than in most other states.

These mid-career returners and new arrivals mature in their careers. Then comes a decision point. For some, their retirement income is portable and goes farther elsewhere so they leave seeking a lower cost of living. For others, they have plenty so it’s not cost of living but tax considerations that cause them to leave.

Finally, many see their local social ties weaken as their own children move elsewhere. In this case, the costs and lack of opportunity experienced by young people feedback directly into the decisions of their parents.

With one recent study suggesting Connecticut could lose 10 percent of its workforce over the next 30 years, understanding the flow of people in and out of our state is becoming even more important. Do you have a story that could help me improve my hypothesis? I’d love to hear from you.

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