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Commonwealth Foundation

PA Population Drops; First in 31 Years

by News Release

HARRISBURG, Pa.– For the first time since 1985, Pennsylvania's total population declined last year, falling by more than 7,600, according to new data from the Census Bureau. In state-to-state migration alone, Pennsylvania lost more than 45,000 residents–one every 11.5 minutes–from July 2015 to July 2016.

"We must consider why our neighbors and family members are leaving the state," commented Elizabeth Stelle, director of policy analysis for the Commonwealth Foundation. "Many of the states seeing population growth–including Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Nevada, and Idaho–have lower tax burdens than the commonwealth. People want economic opportunity, well-paying jobs, and a high quality of life. Unfortunately, our 15th-highest state and local tax burden in the nation roadblocks these goals."

A Gallup poll conducted in 2015 found residents in states with higher state and local tax burdens are more likely to want to leave than those in lower-tax states.

Yet, from 1970 to 2016, Pennsylvania's state spending skyrocketed from $4 billion to more than $78.5 billion, an inflation-adjusted spike of $16,040 per family of four. Had government limited spending growth to inflation and population since 2000, Pennsylvanians would be saving nearly $22.2 billion in taxes, or $6,952 per family of four.

Instead, from 1991-2015, Pennsylvania ranked 46th in job growth, 45th in personal income growth, and 46th in population growth.

"We can't stay on this tax-and-spend trajectory and expect a different outcome," Stelle continued. "Unless we want our friends and neighbors to continue fleeing the state, lawmakers and Gov. Wolf must take the bold steps needed to spend responsibly and lighten the tax burden that's driving people to friendlier tax climates."

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