Using U.S. Census Bureau data, the Los Angeles Times reported last week that net migration from April 2020 to July 2022 was a 699,904-person loss for California as that many more moved out than moved in. That’s a loss greater than the population of the entire state of Vermont. (CalMatters says the net loss of “out-of-staters coming in and Californians leaving” is 871,127, a number higher than the population of the entire state of North Dakota.) When births and deaths are figured in, the state lost 508,903 residents from its previous population total. Only New York’s population dropped harder over the same measured time span, falling by 524,079.
Meanwhile, Texas and Florida, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s favorite states other than his own, both saw their net migrations and overall populations grow significantly.
The Times blamed California’s losses partly on the “COVID-19 pandemic pushing even more people to move to other parts of the country,” which is a sense correct. But it wasn’t the virus so much as it was policymakers’ radical, liberty-crushing response to the outbreak that accelerated the outflow. Humans – yes, this includes Californians – not just the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses, yearn to breathe free, not through a mask nor banished to their homes.
Also blamed by the Times are high housing costs, crime, as well as “long commutes and the crowds,” and “pollution in the larger urban centers.”
To that we’d add the marginal highest income tax rate in the country, heavy sales taxes, outrageously expensive fossil fuels, a nasty attitude from policymakers toward businesses, homelessness, man-made drought, man-allowed wildfires, an almost certain future of power blackouts, and a crushing cost of living.
For decades millions have been willing to pay the “California premium,” in which they accept the above liabilities in exchange for higher-than-average incomes, and other California benefits such as top-ranked universities, and even weather and natural beauty.
The financial benefits of the California Premium, however, are a phantom. Because of steep taxes and housing costs, the California Premium is in reality a net loss of nearly 20%. That’s a tradeoff that many can’t afford to make.
Though it might sound like a banality, “people voting with their feet” is an indisputable truth. The accelerated flight from California confirms it. People and businesses are weary of unfriendly and sometimes outright adversarial policies.
Will it force policymakers to change their voting habits? That’s a hard call to make, because they are not only voting from the foundation of set-long-ago routines, they seem to enjoy what they’re doing to the state.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.