New Jersey Flight: Is It Getting Worse?

Feb 22, 2019

For Sale signs are common in New Jersey
Credit Scott Pringle for WBGO News

Are people leaving New Jersey in droves? One study suggests so, citing that twice as many people left the state in 2018 than came here. We’ve heard it over and over - high property taxes, lots of traffic and an expensive state.

Governor Phil Murphy admits it’s not easy here in New Jersey.

“We’ll never be the low cost state to live in or do business but we will, if it kills me…we will be again the good value for state, for good value for money state. Okay, so I know I pay a premium to there but I get a rich basket of stuff back, most importantly, education, quality of life, safety, security an environment that you want to live in and raise your kids. “

But according to one study people are leaving. A moving company called United Van lines tracks moves throughout the nation annually. It shows New Jersey last year had a higher percent of people leaving than any other state in the nation. The company says of moves involving Jersey, 66 percent were folks packing their bags for elsewhere while just 33 percent were people moving here. Governor Murphy was asked about it.

“This state contrary to folks who suggest otherwise is actually growing in population. Ugh, it’s growing at a very small rate. I’d like to see it growing at a healthier rate.”

Government Census data estimates there’s been a 1.3 percent population increase in New Jersey from April 2010 to July of last year. The moving company’s study shows of the people leaving the garden State, 68 percent say it’s because of jobs or retirement. President of the New Jersey Realtors Association Illene Horowitz is skeptical of the study that shows twice as many people are leaving the Garden State than coming.

Sold signs aren't as common
Credit Scott Pringle for WBGO News

“I think the numbers were slightly skewed. I don’t see a mad exodus out of our state. The housing market was very strong in 2018. I see moving forward into 2019 as also a very strong market. I think people leave New Jersey as they leave any state for various reason, relocation, um kids move, so they follow their kids, warmer climates. But I don’t find that we’re having that many people leaving the state in a mad exodus.”

Horowitz says the median house sales price rose 3.6 percent from 2017 to 2018.

“We’re coming into 2019, all areas show there’s buyer demand and that we feel that the market still going to continue to be a steady market.”

But Gabrielle from Belleville won’t be buying a house in New Jersey.

“It’s crowded. I mean everything is like rising and rising every year. The cost of insurance everything around here. I am here but I am looking to get out eventually. (I am) gonna buy a house and not going to buy it up here because it’s way too expensive.”

Michelle from Kearny says it’s worth it here.

“I don’t think I could ever leave New Jersey. The food is incredible, um the environment is incredible. You have New York. There’s just, there’s a lot that you can do here. There’s mountains that you can go to, go hiking, kayaking. A lot of people love the Jersey shore. This area is incredible.”

Doug Kandel is a Paterson business owner who is looking to move to Pennsylvania
Credit Scott Pringle for WBGO News

Doug Kandel is a small business owner strongly thinking about moving. He runs Fletch Paper Products out of Paterson.

“Our taxes are very high, ugh we also have rents which are higher than our competition in other states.”

He’s says he’s cut everywhere he can over recent years to make up for an increase cost in doing business here in New Jersey.

“We have no buffer left. We’re right up against being a ugh break even business.”

Many of Doug’s employees are making the minimum wage. They’ll be getting a significant pay increase over the next few years. That’s because a 15 dollar an hour minimum wage law was just signed by Governor Murphy. It’s set to go fully into effect in 2024, but it’s too much for Doug to handle. He’s now look at moving his business to Pennsylvania.

“Vendors that are in other states that aren’t going to have these massive increases to their cost basis. Their prices are going to remain level and ours are going to have to go up to compensate for the fact that our our labor costs are going so high. It makes it difficult to impossible for us to remain here.”

Republican State Senator Anthony Bucco has been in government for decades. He says he’s concerned after hearing about the study.

“It shows that what is happening in the state of New Jersey is that becoming unaffordable. People cannot afford to stay here, especially retirees that are that are coming about and only having a uh limited income.”

Governor Murphy’s predecessor Chris Christie made property tax relief one of his signature goals while in office. Back in 2010, he signed a bill into law capping property tax increases at two percent annually. Bucco says..

“It did keep taxes down. Before that two percent cap was put on, taxes were increasing 7, 8, 9 percent a year. Ugh and it’s worked. I hope that the governor will consider keeping that.”

The cap is expired and it’s unclear if Murphy will bring it back.

“We’re working aggressively. We’ve got two shared services czars ugh. We’re looking at everything. We’re funding public education which is a huge weapon toward property tax relief.” says Murphy.

Murphy’s in the middle of ambitious plans to try and make the Garden State a more attractive place. That includes pumping more money into education, revamping NJ Transit and overhauling tax business incentive programs. However, it may mean taxpayers will pay even more in what’s already one of the most expensive states in the nation.

“We continue to be a state of choice for that that family that is still working and raising kids and want to put them through public education.”