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California Exodus: Flight of the Poor

Many have been keen to report that the rich aren’t actually spurning California for other, lower-tax states. The flight of the wealthy, they’re happy to announce, is just a myth.

Unfortunately, they’re missing the other half of the picture. The problem with California’s severe taxes and byzantine regulations is not just that they make life unpleasant for the rich, but that they make it impossible for those who aren’t. Allysia Finley at the WSJ explains:

Over the past two decades, a net 3.4 million people have moved out of California for other states. But contrary to conservative lore, there has been no millionaires’ march to Texas or other states with no income tax. In fact, since 2005 California has experienced a net in-migration of households earning more than $200,000, according to the U.S. Census’s American Community Survey.

As it happens, most of California’s outward-bound migrants are low- to middle-income, with relatively little education: those typically employed in agriculture, construction, manufacturing, hospitality and to some extent natural-resource extraction. Their median household income is about $40,000—two-thirds of the statewide median—and about 95% earn less than $80,000. Only one in 10 has a college degree, compared with 30% of California’s population. Roughly 40% of the people leaving are Hispanic.

Restrictive zoning laws, severe fuel and renewable standards, onerous taxes, and endless bureaucracy are some of the culprits. The consequence, as Finley writes, is that “many of the intended beneficiaries of California’s liberal government are running for the state line.”

If you asked the rank and file of California’s political class to name the goal of their policies, they would probably say helping low- and middle-income people. The vast majority of these lawmakers are not bad people, and many of them genuinely think they have the interests of the vulnerable in mind.

But at some point the state’s progressive elite needs to face facts: the most naturally well-endowed state in America is at risk of becoming the most socially and economically stratified, and greedy corporations, vulture capitalists, and racism are not to blame.

Long home to “the inventors, the dreamers, the entrepreneurs,” as Governor Jerry Brown boasted in his 2011 State of the State address, California is becoming a nightmare for the people whose labor the movers and shakers depend on.

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