Colorado’s red-hot population growth rate is cooling, and while current residents may celebrate, those who are leaving in increasing numbers say they were driven away by rising housing prices, jobs that don’t pay enough and traffic jams.
The state in 2016 saw its first drop this decade in the number of people arriving from other states, while those leaving Colorado hit a record high, resulting in the lowest net-migration number — 30,000 total new residents — in seven years.
New annual figures from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey show that 193,000 Coloradans moved away last year, 10,000 more than in 2015, while 223,000 moved here, down about 4,000 from the year before but still well above recent years.
“We are seeing that there has been an increase in outs — the highest on record,” said state demographer Elizabeth Garner.
Nicole Parkin moved to Colorado from New Jersey in 2009, lured by a combination of “beauty and affordability.” On Friday night, she planned to start the long drive back, her Toyota Corolla loaded with personal belongings, a pet dog and a deep sense of resignation.
“The growth of our beautiful city has brought nothing but increased traffic, angry entitled transplants who have no respect, and a cost of living that is through the roof,” the former Aurora resident said.
Tax-return counts from the Internal Revenue Service show that Colorado experienced a big jump in both households arriving and leaving from other states last year versus 2015. But on the whole, net migration among people who file tax returns isn’t declining.
The Denver Post asked readers who recently left the state to share their stories. Some common themes emerged, including a desire to take advantage of better job opportunities and lower living costs elsewhere and the draw of a less stressful lifestyle.
Home prices rising
Home prices in metro Denver are up 57 percent the past eight years through October, as measured by the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller home price indices, while the average apartment rent since mid-2009 is up 63.6 percent, according to rent figures from the Apartment Association of Metro Denver.
The average hourly wage, by contrast, rose from $25.07 to $28.94, an increase of only 15.4 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meanwhile, Colorado’s population grew by 11 percent from 2009 to 2016 to 5.55 million residents.
If millennials cite the tension between high housing costs and the inability to earn enough income, older adults and natives complained about rising stress levels and a cultural coarsening, which some linked to the legalization of recreational marijuana five years ago.
Still, professionals in real estate and moving businesses say they aren’t yet seeing a slack in the number of people moving here.
“I suppose if we had negative or slowing migration numbers, then, yes, it could help the constrained market. But I have not experienced that yet and would be surprised to see a slower market in 2018,” said Steve Thayer, chairman of the Denver Metro Association of Realtors and owner of the Keller Williams Action Realty office in Castle Rock.
Bill Graebel, CEO of the Graebel Cos. in Denver, which helps employers relocate staff and operations, said his company saw a 22 percent jump in clients moving into Colorado and a 10 percent rise in people moving out from January through October versus the same period in 2016.
“A company would have more reluctance moving into Colorado than they did in the past if there is virtually full employment. But the majority of the country is at full employment. Everywhere is going to be tough,” he said.