Thousands of Afghans who escaped as the Taliban was overtaking their country are being relocated in the U.S. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom, “proud,” he said, “of the fact that, over the last decade, the state has taken in more refugees than any other state in America,” announced in August that “we’re already working in terms of a lot of those refugees” and “non-profit organizations to make sure that they feel welcome and celebrated as members of our community.”
Nearly 10,000 Afghans already make their home in Sacramento County. No other county in the country has more. But it looks like their countrymen who recently fled might not be joining them. It just costs too much to live in California.
“Refugees working with the U.S. Department of State won’t generally get a federal blessing to make the Golden State their new home,” The Center Square reports.
The Bureau of Consular Affairs “has a list the cities it said are best suited for refugees to thrive,” according to The Center Square, and even though there are “significant Afghan population centers in Sacramento and Fremont, where one neighborhood is called Little Kabul,” there are no California cities on the list of 19.
“The Washington, D.C., metro area including northern Virginia and some cities in California are very expensive places to live, and it can be difficult to find reasonable housing and employment,” says the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web page on “Resettlement Options” for “Special Immigrant Visas for Afghans and Iraqis.”
“Any resettlement benefits you receive may not comfortably cover the cost of living in these areas. Unless you have close relatives or friends in these areas who are able to provide financial support and housing until you find employment that covers your living expenses, it is best to allow a resettlement agency to choose a suitable location for you.”
Though the state has experienced robust personal income growth over the last several years (the median household income is now almost 14 percent higher than the U.S. median), the extra dollars don’t make up for the state’s high cost of living, making it an unsuitable location not only for refugees but nearly anyone who isn’t fabulously wealthy.
“All other things equal, California’s higher median household income would indicate that Californians are relatively more prosperous than other Americans,” says a new PRI policy brief “California Migrating: Documenting the causes and consequences of California’s growing exodus problem.” But all things are not equal. Our brief shows that the California income “premium” is offset by exorbitant housing costs and a punishing tax regime.
“Once these costs are paid, California’s 13.7 percent higher median household income turns into a 19.6 percent income deficit,” our report says.
Taxes and housing are just a start. Almost everything costs more in California, including basics such as electricity, gasoline, groceries, and a long list of goods and services, including health care.
Poor public policy has fueled the high cost of living, which is driving out residents and now is making us an unwelcome place even for refugees fleeing horrific lives in their homeland. But there are two points of good news: Bad policy can be reversed, and the solutions aren’t secrets sealed in a vault. They’re out there in the open, ready for lawmakers to use them to turn the state around. There’s a lot to unwind, but a late start is better than no start at all.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.