The Marin Post

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Why do Californians decide to leave their state?

According to popular opinion and culture - California is the land of plenty and the land of the future. There’s no bigger center on Earth when it comes to innovative technologies and creative industries; one look at its impressive display of self-driving and electric cars is enough to conclude that. Plus, it’s a progressive area, which is pushing liberal policies that the rest of the similarly-minded country looks upon with envy. But with all of that in mind - why are people leaving the Golden State in droves? We’ll explore the question in detail here.

Current State of Things

Before we delve into why people are moving away from the Golden State, let’s get one thing out of the way first; as things stand, the emigration out of California isn’t as terrible as it seems. Or, at least, not yet. But just last year, the California Legislative Analyst concluded a report which doesn’t present a bright outlook for California. It seems that in the decade leading up to 2016, the state’s population has declined for an astounding million citizens; most of which haven’t moved out of the US, but simply relocated to other states.

Sure, if you spread this number over an entire decade, it starts looking a lot more acceptable. And if you compare these numbers with the decade before that, it’ll actually look as an improvement. However, it’s not just how many people are moving in and out; it’s about who’s moving as well. And as we look at the economic and social pressures that have plagued California for a while, we’ll realize one simple thing; it’s just becoming too expensive for a whole lot of ordinary people.

The Demographics of Moving

First of all, it’s worth noting that the recent crisis pertaining to affordable housing has had a major effect on the migration patterns in California. And if we want to answer the question of why Californians decide to leave their state; it needs to be taken into account. Sure, local politicians have been advocating for different solutions over the past decade. But the simple fact is, more than 100,000 residents have left the Golden State just in the past year. And many of them due to the lack of realistically affordable housing.

On the other hand, new residents of California are mostly coming from New Jersey, New York, and Illinois. And the people who have decided to leave the Golden State are mostly going to Oregon, Arizona, Texas, and Nevada. As you can see, most people who move here come from the wealthier areas in the US Northeast, while those leaving are going to the Sun Belt regions with lower taxes.

Gentrification on a State Level

Indeed, it seems that while some Californians decide to leave their state, those who stay behind and move in are generally wealthier than those who have left; although they come in smaller numbers, obviously. In fact, the housing crisis that’s looming over California seems to have rendered the Golden State much more economically stratified. Although people who come here from the North have to deal with things like wildfire preparedness which they didn’t handle before, it seems that they’re quite happy to change their lifestyles, for a chance at a high-tech life

And that’s precisely what’s driving house prices up across the board in California. As long as the wealthier denizens of other states are prepared to pay top dollar for housing in the Golden State, the less-better-off locals will be left high and dry. That’s why middle-class citizens have been slowly leaving the state, with little chance of actually coming back. You’ll see all the relevant studies confirming this. For example, one conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute states that almost a third of renters in California can’t realistically afford what they’re currently paying.

Lack of new affordable housing

All such statistics point to one big problem - there’s a huge gap in demand of new affordable housing and the supply of it being built. And we’re not just talking about the Bay Area and Los Angeles County, where this has been an endemic problem for ages. Even the Central Coast is losing a lot of its middle-class and worker citizens. Many of them deem California a lost cause, simply because it has become too expensive.

While Newsom has made promises of building millions of new affordable housing units in the state in the next five years, experts are judging such pledges as improbable and impractical.

But if this crisis of affordability isn’t dealt with soon enough, even Silicon Valley might find itself lacking new up-and-coming tech talent. While this area has been the Mecca for aspiring tech visionaries for as long as anyone can remember, if these people can’t afford housing in California at the beginning of their careers, they’ll probably look for jobs elsewhere. And tech companies are beginning to get the gripes of this; this is a real problem for them, seeing as they know that they’ll be losing employees in the future.


As you may have realized by now, the reason why many Californians decide to leave their state is an endemic rise in overall costs, as well as a lack of affordable housing. On one hand, the emigration numbers are currently not that horrific, and not out of line with similar states. On the other hand, though, long-term predictions suggest that the middle class in California is definitely facing a problem that cannot be easily solved.