Last year the Mackinac Center reported that for the first time since April 2006, Michigan did not have the nation's highest unemployment rate (Nevada beat us out).

The still-bad-but-not-worst-possible news continues: For 2010 — the first time since 2005 — another state (New Jersey) has beat out Michigan in the annual United Van Lines ranking of state outbound migration.

Since 1977, UVL has annually tracked where it takes its clients to and from in the contiguous United States. The Mackinac Center has performed a statistical comparison of UVL data and actual Census data and found the two to be very highly correlated.

This year's report indicates that 62 percent of all UVL's Michigan-related traffic was outbound, falling short of the Garden State's last-place score by just one-half of one percent. Our outbound rate is down from 68 percent in 2009. It's not possible to tell whether the relative improvement is a function of less-rapid decline in Michigan's economy, or simply because potential migrants simply had nowhere else to go.

Incidentally, since 2005, migration has made the state's unemployment rate appear less horrible than it would have if so many (former) residents had not fled for greener pastures in the south and west.

Migration may be one of the most important indications for measuring relative quality-of-life issues. What makes people willing to uproot themselves from everything and everyone they know? Many studies on the question can be summed up with a one-word answer: opportunity.

Mackinac Center adjunct scholar Michael Hicks authored one of those studies, and found that people tend to move to states with flexible labor climates, lower taxes and more days of sunshine. With regard to Michigan, he found that, for every 10 percent increase in personal taxes, 4,900 Michigan citizens leave the state every year thereafter. (In 2007, Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the Michigan legislature hiked personal income taxes by 11.5 percent.)