A new study by the California Policy Lab (CPL) found that, between March 2020 and December 2020, most Californian counties lost more residents than gained, confirming that “Calexit” continued even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the CPL, while large counties such as Los Angeles did lose more total people overall from moving out, San Francisco County and others in the Bay Area were hurt the most, with net exits from San Francisco County increasing by 649% from the year prior.
However, much of the loss was not to out of state areas, as two-thirds of those leaving San Francisco simply moved to cheaper places around the Bay Area, such as Stockton. 80% stayed in California proper. Those fleeing San Francisco also helped mitigate losses in other counties.
“I moved from San Francisco to [the LA adjacent city of] Glendale because of the cost of living, but still wanting to be near a big urban area not in an awful place like Texas,” Brad Lincoln, a tech worker who had moved to San Francisco from Dallas four years ago, told the Globe. “I had to move to LA to get a cheaper place. I know it’s crazy to some, but I fell in love with the environment and ease of living out here, like so many before me.”
Many experts have said that the data fails to show the number of new residents born in the cities, which also helps put the CPL figures in context.
“The number of births in LA County has been decreasing for some years,” said John Busic, a New York-based migration tracker for a non-profit organization. “But even if you add in the numbers leaving overall and deaths, LA County is still growing, albeit extremely slowly. San Francisco doesn’t have that benefit, and neither do many other counties losing people.”
Despite many counties also gaining residents, most often from neighboring counties fleeing higher prices, the trend is showing more people leaving than entering the state. But according to the CPL, this was not a mass state exodus. Rather, San Francisco County was the only place showing such a “dramatic” exodus.
“California clearly did not experience a mass exodus,” explained CPL research fellow Natalie Holmes in a statement on Thursday. “At the county level, however, San Francisco is experiencing a unique and dramatic exodus, which is causing 50% or 100% increases in Bay Area in-migration for some counties in the Sierras.”
While the study didn’t list out of state locations Californians are going to, recent studies by other states have found that other Western states, especially those with lower tax rates and less liberal policies, have been the primary areas. Idaho has been a popular location for many leaving the state, with Idaho officials finding that the percentage of Californians moving in-state has gone up 10% in the past five-to-ten years. North Carolina has also been a popular destination, as has Texas, with metro Austin alone seeing 8% of it’s total migration growth coming from the Golden State.
Amid many leaving California, a significant percentage are moving back
But a significant number of those moving to California have been from the same places. Many Texans have moved to California in recent years, with many Californian ex-pats even writing about horrible experiences in Texas that drew them to move back.
“The tax situation is fantastic, as is the land situation. Houses are cheaper out there,” Roger Stanton, a Riverside native who moved with his family to San Antonio in 2015, only to move back last year during the pandemic, told the Globe. “But the weather was hell on my kids and people made sure not to make Californians feel welcome. Southern hospitality does not exist there.”
“As bad as things are in California, California, at least from what I experienced, is still better in most accounts. Not taxation, obviously, but California still has hope to turn things around, and you know, as a California native, maybe I can help right the ship by being here. I saw all the pluses and minuses of Texas, as well as places like Arizona, so maybe we can work on correcting it out here.”
“My new neighbors actually came from Texas two months ago, and after that big blizzard in Texas, they were surprised at how well California adapts to all kinds of weather and conditions. One cold snap hits Texas, most of the state shuts down. California gets wildfires and earthquakes and continues to sail on because they’ve worked so hard to protect themselves. Even when the state had power outages in a few areas last year, they weren’t for days at a time like Texas, who was minutes away from a statewide, weeks long blackout. I get why people want to leave. I do. But there’s still so many coming back that isn’t being reported on.”
The CPL report defined all moves in the study as moving between zip codes, not between cities as other similar studies used as a metric.