CA residents not leaving en masse, UC survey says

Infographic depicting statistics on CA residents leaving the state
Flora Huynh/Staff

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Despite the misconception that Californians are leaving the state at an unusually high rate, research from the UC system reveals that there is no evidence of a “Cal exodus.”

The survey, released Wednesday, is part of the university’s multi-institute research project. Its purpose is to “inform state policy and public knowledge,” according to a press release from the UC Office of the President.

“In the media and in the general consensus, there’s this idea that people have gotten sick of living in California, that the taxes are too high, that the cost of living is too expensive,” said Cassidy Reller, a doctoral candidate in the UC San Diego political science department. “(The survey) is a way of investigating if people’s views have actually changed.”

A UCSD study looking into Google trends from the past five years found no notable difference in Californian searching behavior with regard to words including “moving” and “U-haul,” according to the press release. A jump would suggest that residents were taking steps toward leaving the state now more than before, but no such increase occurred.

In contrast, Reller noted that current research does show a greater geographic disparity in who is planning to move, when compared to a UC Berkeley poll from 2019. According to the 2021 survey, 37% of Northern California residents outside of the Bay Area are considering leaving the state, compared to only 17% of “San Diego/Orange County” residents.

These findings may help policymakers who are focusing on how to prevent statewide emigration, Reller added.

What our survey found was that while, by and large, Californians believe the California dream works for them, there are still some Californians who feel left out,” said Thad Kousser, UC San Diego professor and department chair of political science. “We see Californians from the area of the state outside of the Bay Area that are less optimistic about the future.”

Researchers at UCLA also participated in analyzing Californian migration trends, the press release adds.

Jennie Brand, UCLA professor of sociology and statistics and director of the California Center for Population Research, said although the public may see increased migration out of California as a sign of a mass exodus, these migrations happen cyclically with economic changes.

According to Brand, only time will reveal the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on in-state migration.

“This is such a distinct era, so there still needs to be time to allow some of these patterns to kind of trickle in and see what happens long-term,” Brand said. “As remote work became more of a possibility, we’ve seen more people migrate out of high-cost urban areas, so there has been that trend.”

Contact Zachary Khouri at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @zachakhouri.