Published by Kartik Subramaniam
Before I get deeper into this article, it is worth noting that I love California. I’ve lived in southern California nearly all my life so this article isn’t meant to sound cynical about the state of affairs around here. I just thought this would be an interesting article to research amid rumors that COVID lockdowns, taxes and regulations are chasing Californians out of dodge.
Just in case you were concerned that the reported exodus of California residents to other states has been exaggerated, it seems to not only be true, but perhaps it is gaining momentum. That in itself is maybe a bit surprising, and some of the other facts surrounding the reports will also surprise you.
Just to clarify, according to the California Department of Finance, the population of the Golden State was still increasing, but ever so slowly, in the period between July 2019 and July 2020. The state showed a net growth of just 21,200 residents, translating to a percentage growth rate for the 12-month period of just one 1.5%. The growth rate has slowed over the past two decades, but this was a record-setter, something that had not been matched since 1900.
During the same period, Los Angeles County reported a net loss in population of more than 40,000, and Orange County is said to have lost nearly 25,000 residents. If you're wondering how to reconcile those numbers, you must dig deeper. The United States Census Bureau confirms that in 2019, 653,000 residents left the state for what they considered greener pastures in other parts of the country. Only 480,000 U.S. residents traded zip codes for one within California. That represents a net loss of 173,000 residents. And that was pre pandemic. But foreign-born new residents were still arriving.
California, with a population nearing 40 million, grew dramatically for most of the 20th Century. With enviable weather, great natural beauty and plenty of space left for new homes and businesses, it seemed to be the land of opportunity, with a booming job market, lively culture, and great cities, food and entertainment. In the second half of the century, the population almost tripled, but for the last 20 years the growth rate has been relatively flat, and it slowed dramatically in 2017. Reasons include a higher than average cost of living, rising home prices, taxes and overall costs, and a slow but steady change in demographics.
As in the rest of the country, California's population growing older, and its birth rate has also declined. But its average age is still young when compared to other states. Unlike the majority of states, however, California is heavily populated by immigrants and minority groups.
According to the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), the state has unique diversity. Its share of foreign-born residents in 2018 was larger than any other state, estimated at 10.6 million. It is also a state with no single race or ethnicity constituting a population majority. Latinos now account for 37% of the population, surpassing the white population in 2014. Other substantial population groups include Asian-American at 15%, African- American numbering 6%, multi-racial groups at 3%, and American Indians or Pacific Islanders under 1%.
In order to understand why California residents are leaving, you cannot discount standard explanations. People relocate for many personal reasons, including new job opportunities, wanting to be closer to family and friends, or simply wanting to taste a new lifestyle. But why aren't people moving into the state? That may also not be difficult to answer.
There is no doubt that traffic and weather play a part in the decision-making process. California has suffered more than its share of natural disasters in the past few years. Rising prices of goods and services, a scarcity of affordable housing -- particularly in major cities -- government regulation on business and rising taxes on individuals, and political considerations all have an effect.
Rural areas lose residents primarily because jobs disappear, while cities seem to lose people due to rising prices and a lack of safe and affordable housing. California's operating farms have been decreasing for generations by some estimates, and its major cities have become known not for their cosmopolitan atmosphere but for their problems that include escalating prices, a culture of drugs, crime and homelessness, and questionable governance.
The effect of COVID-19 also must be considered, and it is not insubstantial. The state has been viewed as a hotspot of infection, and has faced a lot of criticism for its handling of the crisis on local levels. It should be noted that some residents left and sold their home during the pandemic, but that the virus also prevented others from crossing the border into the state, which affects total population numbers.
Favored destinations for California expats are Texas, Arizona and Idaho, for various reasons. Texas mounted a serious campaign to attract new business, especially from California, several years ago, and it has paid off. With no state income tax, a stable economy, a relatively favorable climate and a friendly vibe, new residents feel at home in Texas. Real estate agents are quick to point out the advantages of selling high and buying low, something that is entirely possible when moving to Texas from other places in the nation. That has helped sustain a building boom in Texas that began shortly after the crisis of 2008. Texas is a hot market for buyers from out of state. Austin and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex are the prime areas.
Other California residents, especially those who can continue to work remotely for their employers, head for Phoenix or to Boise, Idaho, which each have some of the same lifestyle, tax and housing advantages, and favorable climates. California real estate spokesmen are quick to confirm the trend. Some of them have even joined the expats, working remotely from new homes out of state, while continuing to represent sellers and buyers in California.
Will the trend be reversed in the future? It's hard to say, but right now it seems as if California is on the downward slope in terms of population. It will, however, no doubt retain its status as the most highly-populated state for at least the foreseeable future.
Are you ready to get your real estate license?