April 26, 2005

Northern Culture on the Skids

As the Census Bureau notes and Kathleen Parker laments, the South is an increasingly better proposition for most folks. The reasons are simple: better job opportunities, better schools, lower taxes, and much lower real estate costs among other factors.

My wife's family is planning its own southern flight, and offers several case studies for example.

After 9/11, property prices skyrocketed in our community an hour north of NYC as people fled the city for the suburbs, a migration that still continues. Houses appraised at $150,000 in 2001 are appraised at $300,000 or more in 2005. This is great for sellers, but those already in these homes and hoping to stay are challenged with excessive (and rising) property and schools taxes they could not have expected when they budgeted for their homes just a few short years ago.

My wife's brother (We'll call him John) and sister (we'll call her Sue) each have families of their own with children not yet old enough for school. Her parents (We'll call them Bill and Helen) are closing in on retirement. We make four families altogether, living with five miles of one another. These are our stories as they are, and as they may be.

John is in a mid-level white collar career, commutes an hour or more each way, every day, and has seen the price of condos in his neighborhood almost double in approximately two years. His taxes have gone up as well. His wife stays home with my infant nephew during the day and works part-time at night. They are getting by, but just barely. There is a distinct chance that if they stay in the area, that both of them will have to work fulltime jobs just to make ends meet, and they will rarely see each other or their new son, who will suddenly add significant childcare costs into the equation (because of necessary fulltime employment), almost negating the second income. It will become increasingly difficult to keep up with the pace of taxes if they stay here, and all but impossible for them to move into a house or afford another child.

If John moves his family to either Charlotte or the Triangle (Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill) in North Carolina as he has discussed, he could get a comparable job at the same or only slightly less pay, and afford not just a condo, but a much larger home of his own with a nice yard in a good school district while paying far less in taxes, and cutting an hour or more off his total commute every day, while enabling his wife to be a full-time stay-at-home mom for their exsting child and any they may have in the future.

Sue is a stay-at-home mom with a three-year-old and an infant. Her husband bought a small but nice house several years ago and put a lot of time into making it a wonderful home. He manages a body shop, a recession-proof job that is secure, but one that doesn't have lots of room for rapid vertical growth to keep up with NY taxes. He works six, sometimes seven days a week so that Sue can stay home with their kids, and they are just scraping by.

At the moment, they are looking to move to Florida. His pay won't change much, but he has family there, will make a killing on the sale of his home, and the cost of living is much more affordable if they can learn to adapt to the climate and the possibility of hurricanes. By moving south, he thinks he can continue to provide for his family at the same level of comfort (or better) that they presently enjoy, while cutting back on his hours.

Bill and Helen
Bill is an extraordinary salesman in his field, and Helen was mostly a stay-at-home mom over their bulk of their marriage. They are able to retire, though Bill will probably continue to work for several more years because he truly enjoys what he does. Like their children John and Sue, they own a home that has doubled in value in just a few years, which has made their tax burden oppressive.

They are also tired of New York winters, and have expressed an interest in retiring to North Carolina for years, ever since Bill's parent retired to Pinehurst several decades ago on their own. They could make a handsome profit on their current four-bedroom home in New York, and afford a custom home built for their new retirement lifestyle with plenty left over for a substantial nest egg in a Carolina golf community. Another huge draw would be being nearer their children and grandchildren, and their favorite son-in-law, of course.

Me and the Missus
I'm a North Carolina native, and while I came to really love a lot about New York while I've been here, I can't afford to stay. We were new to the area and renting before 9/11/01, and the rise of housing costs afterward made the possibility of getting a decent home increasingly more remote. Add the fact that my tech-sector focused employment required the bare minimum of an hour commute to Westchester or New York City each way, each day. Compound that with now-sluggish prospects in my field up here in New York, and the Research Triangle Park starts looking really good. I've worked there before and know my commuting times will be halved while my prospects for a nice home in our price range go up astronomically. And pork barbeque. Real BBQ. Enough said.

We are Not Alone
I don't think our cases are out of the ordinary. My daughter's school administrator confirmed she is losing a substantial amount of kids to southern relocation each semester, and mostly for reasons like those cited above.

Increasingly, the middle class is bugging out of tax-hungry northern states for more favorable southern and western climes, and the middle class that remains seems to be coming under increasing stresses from above and below. The truly wealthy know how to shelter their earnings and are more resistant to ever-encroaching tax demands, while the poor tend to contribute very little, if anything at all. That is an untenable long-term situation.

Add to these tax burdens the demands of growing illegal immigrant populations in many of these northern (and western) states with their more liberal public assistance programs, and we see the almost unavoidable possibility of a northern culture in decline, while the best and brightest of the formerly northern middle class head to Atlanta, Charlotte, Birmingham, and Dallas.

I saw a comment scrawled in the dust on the back of an I-95 Southbound New Jersey-registered moving truck a few years ago, and it seemed to sum up the situation perfectly:

"Will the last person out of New York please remember to turn out the light."

I think I can promise you that the last person won't be me.

05/26/05 Update: Confederate Yankee has moved out of New York. Sue's husband has a standing job offer near Miami, and they're planning to move south at the end of the summer. John and his wife are staying put...for now. Bill and Helen are as well.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at April 26, 2005 09:54 AM | TrackBack