Krugman Gets it Wrong on Internal Migration

Rick McGaheyby Rick McGahey, SCEPA Faculty Fellow

In today's New York Times, Paul Krugman confuses issues around internal population migration in the U.S. with issues of job creation and economic growth. He ends up in an unnecessary and defensive argument about whether low-wage and anti-regulation states like Texas are a superior economic model.

First, there just isn't that much net internal migration. The American Community Survey tells us that in 2012, net migration between New York State and Texas was 9,043 in favor of Texas (20,274 New Yorkers to Texas, but 11,231 Texans to New York State). That is less than one-half of one percent of the total population of New York State, hardly a big trend. In fact, researchers are trying to figure out why internal migration is declining, not rising—in 2011, Federal Reserve researchers noted that "by most measures, internal migration in the United States is at a thirty-year low." 

Second, outmigration and relocation is driven by a lot of things beyond relative taxation or regulation, including baby boomer retirements (oddly not mentioned in Krugman's column). If you just want to hold down migration, make New York a more attractive retirement location. Texas has had relatively strong job growth since the Great Recession, but analysts attribute much of that to natural gas and oil production, including virtually unregulated fracking. 

Krugman's column has produced a predictable set of online complaints about high taxes and repressive regulations in New York relative to the South. New York does need more housing density, although the region has many housing opportunities given our public transportation network. But Krugman's odd use of what in reality are vanishingly very small numbers on migration to Texas inadvertently contributes to a misguided narrative about how attractive Texas and other bottom-feeder states really are.

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