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The Great Blue Migration
Middle Class Families Flee the Golden State

The Hoover Institution’s Carson Bruno took a close look at California’s migration patterns, and what he found should worry policymakers in Sacramento. Not only are Californians leaving the state in large numbers, but the people heading for the exits are disproportionately middle class working families—the demographic backbone of American society.

Between 2004 and 2015, roughly 930,000 more people left California than moved to the Golden State—just three years saw net domestic in-migration. The biggest beneficiaries of California’s net loss are Arizona, Texas, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

… Knowing that net out-migrants are more likely to be middle-class working young professional families provides some hints as to why people are leaving California for greener pastures. For one, California is an extraordinarily high cost-of-living state. Whether it is the state’s housing affordability crisis – California’s median home value per square foot is, on average, 2.1 times higher than Arizona, Texas, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington’s – California’s very expensive energy costs – the state’s residential electric price is about 1.5 times higher than the competing states – or the Golden State’s oppressive tax burden – California ranks 6th, nationally, in state-local tax burdens – those living in California are hit with a variety of higher bills, which cuts into their bottom line.

As we’ve noted before, many of the biggest, bluest states in the country—including New York, Illinois, and Massachusetts—have also experienced major exoduses over the last five years (although these outflows have been offset, to varying degrees, by foreign immigration). These large out-migrations represent serious policy failures, at least in California’s case: Sacramento has enacted taxes and regulations that drive up the cost of living even as they repel companies that might offer stable middle-class jobs outside of Silicon Valley.

The new statistics out of California are a bad omen for the future of the state’s doctrinaire blue model governance. As Bruno notes, if families and the young continue to flee California, the population will become older and less economically dynamic, creating a shortfall in tax revenue and possibly pressuring Sacramento raise rates even higher. Meanwhile, California faces a severe pension shortfall, both at the state and local level, that will require painful sacrifices from various constituencies—even as the state’s rapid demographic change (the state is still a magnet for foreign immigrants) could heighten political tensions. Don’t expect California’s domestic exodus to reverse itself anytime soon.

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  • qet

    That’s like expecting a cocaine addict to be worried by the latest report showing the ill effects of cocaine. Far from being worried, California’s “policymakers” will merely accelerate the pace of their “coercive power of government.”

  • Pait

    It’s so crowded no one goes that anymore.

    (I expect flames.)

    • Dale Fayda

      That’s the dumbest and laziest excuse of an excuse for California’s disfunction I’ve seen yet.

      • Pait

        I said I expected flames.

        • Jim__L

          I’m just a contrarian. 😉

          • Pait

            When I said I expected flames, I had in mind the “dumbest and laziest” compliment which was duly offered.

            As an aside, I can barely imagine how California would be managed if the people who did it only knew how to argue by calling names anyone who disagrees. Maybe the US will try the experiment at a national level, we’ll see.

          • Dale Fayda

            “I can barely imagine how California would be managed if the people who did it only knew how to argue by calling names anyone who disagrees”.

            You’re seeing it now, dingus. The East Bay liberals who run this state are the most intolerant and vitriolic bunch of progressive psychopaths in the country. With honorable mentions going to the ruling cliques in MA and NY, of course.

          • Pait

            I’m not going to speak for other states, but Massachusetts is altogether fairly well run. Yes, I know about Whitey Bulger’s brother and DiMasi and all that; I’m not claiming that people in the place where I’ve been living for the last decade are angels or that everything is perfect. Just that altogether the Commonwealth and towns are as well run as anywhere in the world, if not better.

            The state senators and representatives are also tolerant and soft spoken, by and large. The ones I met are sensible and practical people, very much unlike your description.

          • Dale Fayda

            I hate to point out the obvious, but the reason I called your initial comment stupid and lazy is because it was. It was a throw-away trope, which makes no sense in relation to the subject of this article, namely that the middle class is LEAVING California.

            You said that the reason that middle class families are fleeing the state may be because: “It’s so crowded no one goes there anymore.” Not only is that a patent falsehood (see my previous comments), but it doesn’t begin to explain why middle class families already IN California are leaving the state. What does “…so crowded no one goes there any more” have to do with the well-established trend of middle income population of CA getting out of it?

            Do you not understand the difference between moving out an moving in? This article talks about the egress of the middle class from this state. What are you talking about? Who’s having a hard time getting into California because it’s so “crowded”?

            “I’m not going to speak for other states…” Then maybe you shouldn’t postulate about the state of affairs in CA. With several Democrat state legislators currently in prison on charges ranging from voter fraud to gun running and with several others convicted, but out on probation, California’s ruling class is thoroughly corrupt, to say the least.

          • Pait

            As I wrote, I expected that quoting Yogi Berra would bring in the trolls, though perhaps I didn’t predict the level of flames.

            Arguments that start with “you ar stupid” don’t carry much weight, but they do reveal a lot about the author.

          • Dale Fayda

            Your throw-away comments are intellectually lazy and factually incorrect. You’re also a whiner.

            Can you refute any of my arguments on substance? Feel free to retort.

          • Pait

            Your arguments, such as they are, have been duly refuted by others in this thread.

            May I instead suggest that you might profitably entertain the thought that your arguments do not, either in content or in form, advertise a rational exchange with you as possible, or worthwhile of any significant investment of time? The only thing one might learn from a dialogue with someone who reacts to the slightest disagreement by calling the other side “dumb, idiotic, vitriolic, psychopaths, dingus, intolerant, lazy, whiner” is the extent to which these characterizations apply to the author – that they do should not be the subject of much doubt.

            One other thing you might want to understand is that S Francisco, Los Angeles, N York, Boston, or Toronto, to give some examples in N America, are world-class cities that attract the best and brightest. This comes with a price. There is not much room for unpleasant characters without demonstrable intellectual or physical attributes besides an extreme conceit and hatred of different ideas. Those should either leave or take a menial, or subordinate position; any reputable house of worship should help if they cannot find in themselves the humility to accept their limits.

            I do wish the good Lord will allow you to live your life the way you have chosen, though I would not recommend it to anyone. And I wish that the Creator will show boundless mercy towards the poor souls who live in places where arguments by hatred and invective such as you practice are the normal form of public discourse – Syria comes to mind.

      • Jim__L

        He has a point. If you want a Middle Class life — house in the ‘burbs, reasonable chance for Mom to stay home with the kids when they’re small, having kids at all in fact, etc — California just isn’t the place to get it anymore, largely because of housing prices and density.

        It does not excuse California’s dysfunction, but it’s a good description of what’s going on.

        • Dale Fayda

          I can tell you from experience that California isn’t dense at all. It’s just big, so it can fit a lot of people. There are huge empty tracts of land even in desirable coastal counties. One and half hours east of downtown Hollywood, you’re in the middle of nowhere, with mountainous darkness at night.

          California isn’t overcrowded, it’s just horribly mismanaged.

          • Sulaco

            And that mismanagement stops anyone from building anything like new housing which keeps the price of existing housing sky high. A closed cycle going out of control.

          • Dale Fayda


          • GS

            Well, if you object to “dense”, then pick other synonyms. Say, “dumb”.

          • Jim__L

            The places there are jobs are crowded. People (like me) move from places in California that aren’t crowded to places that are crowded to have those jobs. It leads me to believe that if the jobs were sited in the less-crowded areas, people could live better lives.

          • Dale Fayda

            Once again, even the thickly populated coastal counties are not very crowded, except at the ocean’s edge. There is PLENTY of empty land within 1 – 1.5 hour drive east of pretty much any costal point in the state of CA. The eastern portion of the state is well-nigh empty. Granted, a lot of it is desert and mountains, but it hasn’t stopped Nevada or Arizona or New Mexico or Utah or Colorado from attracting a large chunk of businesses from CA. Tesla’s recent decision to locate its new giga-factory in “no corporate, no personal income tax” Nevada is a prime example.

            As several people have mentioned in this very comment string, the business climate of CA is horrendous. In most of LA County the sales tax is 9.25% (higher is some municipalities). If you’re a corporate buyer in So Cal, would you buy locally or from LV (3.5 hours away by truck), Phoenix (6.5 hours away) or SLC (13 hours away) and save yourself over 9% on sales taxes + a lower base price? Not to mention Mexico (4 hours away), where you can buy for about 1/3 of what you’d pay in CA.

            And that’s just one aspect of this state’s disfunction. Cost of commercial rent/real estate, utilities, insurance, labor, payroll taxes/workman’s compensation, property taxes, “renewable energy” penalties and mandates are all through the roof.

          • Pait

            That’s the result of decisions made in the free market by large and small organizations, as well as by individuals. If we don’t like the result, we probably need more, not less, government intervention.

  • Beauceron

    I think we have witnessed this new iteration of the Left to know what comes next.

    When a policy fails, it only fails because it wasn’t committed to enough. So as we watch ObamaCare fail, it’s only because we don’t have single payer; as we watched the economy stall, it was only because we didn’t pump enough money into the system; as we watch the higher education system. especially the humanities, crumble, it’s only because we haven’t thrown enough money at it; as affirmative action continues to yield poor results, it’s only because we haven’t provided even more unfair handouts to people based on skin color.

    • iconoclast

      In that spirit, California’s leaders will increase taxes, increase regulation, increase the price of housing, attract more legal and illegal immigrants, increase the price of energy, reduce the availability of water, and reduce the land under cultivation. That will fix the problems.

      • Albert8184

        And confiscate more land. Don’t forget the confiscation.

  • Ann in L.A.

    Lousy schools are a big factor as well. In California, you have to pay more for a house, more for taxes, and then when you want to have kids, you realize that the schools are so bad you either need to move out of the state, into a tony neighborhood, or pay for private if you want your kids to learn something and have a chance to be a productive adult.

  • MartyH

    Every single month since May of 1990 California has had higher than average unemployment. Something like 1/3 of the nation’s welfare recipients are in California. This state is anti-worker; the drainage of the middle class is an obvious consequence of these policies. Heck, even the beneficiaries of these polices try to get away from them when they can. About 15% of state government retirees have left the state. I know a guy who works for the justice department who loves ordering stuff from overseas online because he avoids paying sales tax. There is a lot to recommend about the state, but the economic environment-especially for the middle class and working poor- is not one of them.

  • Blackbeard

    This is why it’s so important to the Left that they control the federal government. Blue model governance really doesn’t work well and we can see, at the state level, more and more turning red. But as long as they control the federal government they can pillage the red states to support the blue. In addition they can relentlessly attack red state industries, such as fossil fuels, making red states look relatively better.

  • Michael Shorts

    What do middle class families want? Good jobs, a nice house, good schools, and low crime. California is terrible on all of these.

    • Albert8184

      What the Marxists want is the disappearance of the Middle Class.

  • Albert8184

    Good for them. They’re escaping the clutches of socialism before it’s too late. I guess the next step for the Sacramento Kremlin will be to build a wall around the state with machine gun towers and land mines.

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