California Has Been Shedding Residents—For Decades

The state Legislative Analyst's Office looks at California's out-migration data. Every year since 1990, more Californians left for other than states than arrive. Which states are sending their residents here, and where are Californians fleeing to?
March 3, 2018, 11am PST | Irvin Dawid
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Brian Uhler and Justin Garosi analyze the movement to and from California and other states from 1990 to 2016 using income tax filing data and the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey for the state Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) on Feb. 21. Only domestic migration is studied. The movement to/from other countries and Puerto Rico is not considered.

Planetizen regularly posts on U.S. domestic migration and California growth, particularly how the two are impacted by the state's exorbitant housing costs. What was startling to find was that net out-migration in the state has been much larger during the study period than it has been recently.

"On net, the state lost 1 million residents to domestic migration—about 2.5 percent of its total population" from 2007 to 2016, report Uhler and Garosi.

These population losses are low in historical terms.

As the graph shows, net out-migration from 1990 to 2006 was, on average, more than double what is was in the most recent ten years. 

Also surprising is that California gains more residents from 16 states than it loses to them. Of course, that may not necessarily be a measure of Califonia's attractiveness as much as it the desire to leave those other states. One state which that clearly wasn't the case was Florida, a fast-growing state and the third most populous in the nation.

As one might expect, by far the state with the greatest attraction for departing Californians is Texas, followed by Arizona, Nevada, and Oregon, as the chart shows. The three states sending the most residents to California are New York, Illinois, and New Jersey, respectively, all of which have actually seen net population losses recently, taking into account the other two growth factors of births and immigration.

While only Illinois was among the eight states lost population between July 2016 and July 2017, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released in December, New York and New Jersey were estimated to have lost population from 2015-2016.

In addition to population, the report includes analysis of income, education, and age data, with state-by-state graphs for all three metrics.

Although California has had net out-migration among most demographic groups, it has gained among those with higher incomes ($110,000 per year or more) and higher levels of education (graduate degrees).

According to last December's estimates from the state Department of Finance, the state grew by 301,000 to 39.5 million from July 1, 2016 to July 1, 2017. Net domestic migration declined from 164,000 in 2016 to 105,000 last year. Natural population increase (births less deaths) was responsible for 73 percent of the growth, with net immigration from abroad comprising the remainder.

Click here for more Planetizen posts on LAO reports.

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Published on Wednesday, February 21, 2018 in California Legislative Analyst's Office
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