By Soumya Karlamangla
New York Times
If there’s one thing the candidates vying to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom can agree on, it’s that too many Californians are fleeing the state.
While kicking off her campaign, Caitlyn Jenner shared that a fellow private plane owner was “packing up his hangar” for Arizona because he couldn’t stand to see any more homeless people. Kevin Paffrath, a YouTube star running as a Democrat, began his candidacy announcement by listing reasons for trading in “broken” California for Florida’s greener pastures.
In a recent debate, Republican candidate Kevin Faulconer said that if you named a state, any state, Californians were headed there.
Sure, there’s some truth to what’s been called the “California exodus”: More Californians are relocating to other states than are moving here from elsewhere in the country. But that’s by no means a new trend — it’s been that way for more than 30 years.
And while California’s population declined slightly last year and the state lost a congressional seat, it wasn’t because of a sudden mass migration to states like Texas and Idaho.
Our halted population growth was mostly because of falling numbers of births and international immigration, as well as a high number of deaths from COVID-19, as my colleague Shawn Hubler has reported.
Still, the discussion left me wondering where Californians end up settling when they do leave. So I crunched the numbers.
More than 653,000 Californians moved to another state in 2019, while about 480,000 people moved here from elsewhere in the country, according to data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. (The 2020 numbers aren’t available, but analyses of other 2020 data sets have yielded similar results.)
These were the top destinations for Californians leaving:
- Texas (82,235 people in Texas had moved from California in the last year).
- Arizona (59,713).
- Nevada (47,322).
- Washington (46,791).
- Oregon (37,927).
States you’d be most likely to run into a Californian:
- Nevada (three out of every 200 Nevada residents had moved from California in the past year).
These are the states new Californians most often moved here from:
- New York (37,567 Californians had lived in New York in the past year).
- Texas (37,063).
- Washington (31,882).
- Arizona (28,226).
- Nevada (26,433).
For many Californians, the high cost of living makes staying here nearly impossible, experts say. In Texas, the median home price is $329,000, less than half of what it is in the Golden State, according to Redfin, a real estate brokerage.
Eric McGhee, a senior fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California, told me that people moving to California were more likely to be educated, employed and earn higher incomes than those moving away.
That suggests that high expenses are to blame for the departures, though not high taxes, as some claim, he said. California taxes wealthier people at much higher levels than those with lower incomes, he said.
“If those taxes were the motivation, you’d expect wealthy people to be moving out,” McGhee said, noting exceptions such as Elon Musk, a newly minted Texan. “By and large that’s not the people leaving the state.”
For all the hand-wringing about California’s no-longer-booming population, there’s some evidence that we may actually prefer it that way.
A University of California, San Diego poll released in July found that a fraction of Californians believed the state would benefit from continued population growth over the next decade.
A far higher share — more than 1 in 3 Californians — had a different take: California would be better off if it shrunk.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.