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Housing and Homelessness

'CalExodus’ May Be Overblown, But California Is Losing People — Here’s Why

Long stretch of two-lane highway leads into the mountains surrounding by a dry desert landscape
A road in the American Southwest.
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News stories of a mass exodus from California may be over-exaggerated.

However, new research finds that Golden State migration trends have indeed changed dramatically during the pandemic — just not in the way you might think.

“The big change has been way fewer people coming into the state,” said Natalie Holmes, a researcher with the California Policy Lab who co-authored a new paper looking at state migration trends.

“That has, to my knowledge, largely been missing from the popular narrative," she said.

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Moves Into L.A. Have Plummeted During The Pandemic

The researchers looked at quarterly data from a large national credit bureau, which can reveal where people move over time.

They found that since early 2020, nearly 40% fewer people have been moving into L.A. County from other states. That decline closely tracks California’s statewide rate of reduced domestic in-migration.

At the same time, more Angelenos have been moving out of state.

Los Angeles saw moves to other states increase by about 12% during the pandemic, a rate that also mirrors exits statewide. However, this rise in out-migration is in keeping with pre-pandemic trends. Researchers say it doesn’t appear that COVID-19 has significantly hastened departures.

“It's a bit higher than before the pandemic, but I wouldn't characterize it as an exodus,” Holmes said. “It's not that big of a difference relative to what was happening before.”

The only exception researchers found was in the Bay Area, where moves out of San Francisco increased by 34%, while entrances declined by almost 53%.

Why Population Loss Matters For California

The implications of these demographic shifts are huge.

This year, California reported losing population for the first time on record. And with other states gaining residents, California now has to give up a seat in Congress.

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Continuing population declines could mean further loss of national political power — and federal funding.

The researchers did not set out to pinpoint what exactly is driving these trends. “Our story is the what, not the why,” said Holmes.

However, California’s prohibitively high housing costs, plus opportunities for remote work, could be likely culprits in convincing people elsewhere to stay put.

Other researchers routinely point out that the state has not built enough housing to keep up with job growth, often making it very difficult for people moving to L.A. to find an affordable place to live.

What questions do you have about housing in Southern California?