Research: More people are leaving California and fewer people are moving in to replace them

The trend of people leaving California isn’t new. Two years ago, NBC Bay Area reported that more people had left California than had moved into the state for the 7th year in a row. A Berkeley poll at the time found that 52% of registered voters had thought about leaving the state citing the high taxes, and high housing prices.

Last year, CBS LA reported on another reason some were leaving: Progressive politics. A realtor who specialized in helping people leave the state told CBS, “For the average person who maybe came out here for the weather, I think they’re saying the trade-off is just not worth it any longer.” By the end of 2020, the state reported that the annual growth rate was the lowest it had been in over 100 years:

The California Department of Finance, which monitors the state’s population data, found that between July 1, 2019, and July 1, 2020, California saw a net gain of only 21,200 new residents — a 0.05% growth rate not seen since 1900.

Last month, a progressive NY Times columnist who lives in California even wrote about how appealing Texas looked to him. With all of that in mind, this research from the California Policy Lab suggests a twist on the story of the California Exodus. It’s not just that people are leaving California in droves, it’s that fewer people from other states are moving in to replace them:

The findings by the California Police Lab shows a 38% decrease in people moving in and 12% increase in residents moving out-of-state. Researchers say that number is in line with trends before the pandemic…

“Although a lot of the talk has been about ‘Cal Exit’, we think the bigger story is on ‘Cal Entrances,’” said co-author of the study Evan White…

“I guess I was a little bit surprised to see that entrances had fallen so much. It wasn’t so much that we saw it in a particular area. For me, the surprise was that this was a statewide phenomenon,” White said.

As you can see in this graph, there’s quite a bit of seasonal variation in entrances and exits but once you average that data (the dotted lines) you can see exits (light blue) were trending up gradually for a few years but really had an inflection point last fall. Meanwhile, entrances to the state (dark blue) looked pretty flat until January 2020 when they started to drop.

Overall, the percentage of people moving who decided to leave the state went from about 16% in 2016 up to 20% as of this September. This heat map shows where the number of exits increased the most (red areas) as well as areas where people are still moving in (blue areas). As you can see, the Bay Area is the real hot spot. (You can see the interactive version of this map with percentages for each county here.)

The obvious reason for this inflection point early last year is the pandemic. Of course the pandemic was happening everywhere in the US, so most people weren’t making decision about where to move solely because of that, though you’d think it would result in more people just staying where they are. In any case, we’ll have to wait for next year to see if California’s exit and entrance numbers revert to the recent, less dramatic trends of if what we’re seeing now is just a new normal for the state.

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