State Watch

Study shows there was no ‘mass exodus’ from California last year

Despite claims of a “mass exodus” from California in the past year, a new study released Thursday from a nonpartisan think tank found that 2020 exits from the most highly-populated American state largely mirrored historical patterns.

California Policy Lab, which partners with governments in the state to provide data on key issues, said in a press release announcing the report’s findings that most of the moves by California residents in 2020 happened within the state. 

The group found that the most significant change recorded was a drop in the number of people moving into California. 

The city of San Francisco, however, did see a record number of people leave throughout the coronavirus pandemic. 

From last March to the end of 2020, net exits from the Northern California city increased by 649 percent when compared to the same period in 2019, from 5,200 departures to 38,800, the Policy Lab reported. 

“While a mass exodus from California clearly didn’t happen in 2020, the pandemic did change some historical patterns, for example, fewer people moved into the state to replace those who left,” said Natalie Holmes, a research fellow at the Policy Lab and a graduate student at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California-Berkeley. 

Holmes added, “At the county level, however, San Francisco is experiencing a unique and dramatic exodus, which is causing 50% or 100% increases in Bay Area in-migration for some counties in the Sierras.”

Since 2015, the share of movers actually leaving the state has ticked up from 16 percent to 18 percent.

Evan White, executive director of the Policy Lab at UC Berkeley, said that while the state has yet to see evidence that wealthy residents are leaving the state in large numbers, exits of higher-income groups could negatively impact the state’s economy in the future. 

“Unfortunately, because the state relies heavily on income taxes on the über-wealthy, the departure of even small numbers of wealthy people could negatively impact revenues if they aren’t replaced with new entrants,” White said in a statement. 

The study relied on data from the University of California Consumer Credit Panel, which includes information about adults with a credit history who have lived in California since 2004. 

The dataset includes a person’s ZIP code and credit information, which are updated on a quarterly basis, according to Friday’s press release. 

The Policy Lab defines a move as a change in ZIP code from one quarter to the next, meaning there could be lags in the data if a change in address is not immediately reported.

Tags California coronavirus pandemic migration patterns moving San Francisco Think tank UC Berkeley UCLA University of California
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