Research 09/21/2022

Moving In? Exploring Wisconsin’s Migration Challenges

A new report from Forward Analytics, Moving In? Exploring Wisconsin’s Migration Challenges, finds that increased migration is the only way to counter the expected large decline in the number of Wisconsin residents in their prime working years, as the state does not have enough young people to replace the baby boomers who will turn 65 over next 10 years.

See the full report here: Moving In? Exploring Wisconsin’s Migration Challenges

Recently released figures from the 2020 census indicate that if 2010-2020 migration patterns continue, the number of working Wisconsin residents will decline by about 130,000 by 2030.

According to the new study, one of the state’s long-term weaknesses, attracting and retaining young people, continued between 2012 and 2020. Data from federal income tax returns show the state lost 106,000 “families,” in which the tax filer was under 26 years of age. Often, these are single individuals.

“Attracting and retaining these young people is critical for Wisconsin,” said Forward Analytics Director Dale Knapp. “Attracting and retaining them would not only grow the current workforce, it would also help long term as many of these young adults will soon be starting a family and raising the next generation of workers.”

On the positive side, there were indications that some of the young leavers may be returning as they reach their family formation years. Large numbers of these young people leave for California, Washington, Colorado, Arizona, and New York. However, Wisconsin gains a surprising number of residents from these states, and the average family size of those moving here was at least 10% greater than those leaving Wisconsin, consistent with young families returning to the state.

“Wisconsin will continue to lose retirees to warm weather states such as Florida and Arizona,” Knapp said. “However, this study shows that the state can build on its reputation of good schools, low crime, and great outdoor amenities to attract families headed by those in their 30s and 40s.”

In addition to the loss of young adults, the study points to another critical weakness in terms of migration. The loss of higher-income families. The study shows that lower-income families were more likely to have moved than those with higher incomes. However, among families that moved, those with higher incomes were more likely to leave the state. Among movers with incomes under $25,000, just 37% left the state. However, that percentage rises to 43% among families with incomes between $100,000 and $200,000 and to 56% among those with incomes above $200,000.

The good news for Wisconsin is that the propensity of high-earners to leave the state has been declining. In 2012, more than 60% high-income movers left. By 2020, that percentage was down to 52%.

Report Highlights:

  • Without an increase in migration from other states or countries, by 2030 the state’s prime working age population (25 to 64) will likely shrink by an estimated 130,000 people.
  • Among single young adults families headed by someone under age 26, Wisconsin lost 106,000 more “families” than it gained during 2012-2020.
  • Of more than 460,000 families that moved out of the state from 2012-2020, more than two-thirds moved to a state out of the region, one that does not border Wisconsin.
  • Over the 10 years, net migration into Wisconsin based on Census Bureau figures was down nearly a third compared to the prior decade and 75% from the 1990s.