California: Why Is Everyone Fleeing?

California is the most populated state in the country, but maybe not for long.

As has been widely advertised by many conservative pundits, residents– as well as large businesses – have been fleeing the Golden State in record numbers. 

Nearly 650,000 people left California for other states in 2020 alone. Between April 2020 and July 2022, the number of residents leaving easily surpassed those moving in by nearly 700,000 and the outward migration doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. 

The pandemic and California’s strict lockdown policies along with many companies dictating mandatory vaccination requirements drove the large exodus in 2020, particularly for families with children. Most parents wanted their children in school even if they were working remotely. 

The surge in remote work opportunities didn’t do California any favors. Families may have left the state due to pandemic policy, but they stayed away because of the power of the purse. If people were able to keep their jobs and work from home, they realized, on the same income they could live like royalty in almost any other state as opposed to serfs in California. 

Cost of Living

A $60,000 salary goes a lot further in say, Kansas, than California. With the average rent in California running well over $2,200 for a two-bedroom space, $60,000 may put a single-income earner at risk of poverty. That same rent in a major metropolitan area of California might afford you a studio apartment and some ramen noodles. 

Add a family to the mix and you can forget the idea of a stay-at-home mom. 

Among married-couple households, about 13 percent consisted of families with children in which only the husband worked, 31 percent were dual-income families with children, and 25 percent were dual-income families with no children.

Greener Pastures

This phenomenon of departures exceeding arrivals isn’t new. Every year since the 1990s, more people have exited California than have moved in from other parts of the country. Between 2007 and 2016, California lost a net one million residents to other states — with Texas, Arizona, and Nevada as the top destinations.

While I know the plural of anecdote is not data, here is what I can tell you as a Californian who has been visiting Tennessee for the past week. Life is just easier here. 

As a more conservative member of society, I don’t feel like the plague. I’m not walking on eggshells out for fear of offending someone. Although, I’m pretty sure the twenty-some-year-old at the checkout of Whole Foods did not appreciate my “Make Women Female Again” hat. But my statement cap garnered more compliments than disgust. 

Sure, people may not have degrees from Harvard or Stanford, or Princeton, but they do have common sense, something that seems to be in short supply these days. They are also very kind and from what I can tell, tolerant of those who don’t think like they do. 

They don’t mind Californians moving in. They just don’t want them bringing their values – or lack thereof – with them, thinking they’re going to change the culture or the politics. 

As someone who has been all over the world, California’s beauty, particularly its coastline, is second to none. However, there is simply more space outside of California, literally and figuratively.

The lush, green undulating hills of Tennessee rival the rocky coastline and picturesque beaches. A sunset on the farm is equally as stunning as one hovering over the sea. Trails and hiking abound. Even drives down the freeway are lined with trees, and while traffic around Nashville exists, the bumper-to-bumper two-hour standstills that would give even the Dali Lama road rage, are rare.  

Sky High Real Estate

While California may be known for its laid-back lifestyle, it’s hard to live the “no worries” motto with gas at $5 a gallon and state income tax of a median rate of 10-12 percent and up to 13.3 percent for those making more than $1 million. Considering that’s middle class in California, that’s a lot more people than one would assume. The property taxes may be lower than average, but who can afford a house? 

California completely redefines the term “starter home.” 

As you might expect for the third largest state in the nation by square miles, home prices vary wildly across the state, depending on the region, but none are particularly economical. A single-family home in a less desirable area, like Sacramento, will run you approximately $472,000, and that’s on the low end.

A similar home in the Los Angeles area will come in just under $750,000, and we’re not talking beachside real estate. Homes in the most desirable areas of California like the beach cities, somewhere near West Hollywood, or even in Ventura County, the area north of Los Angeles, will start with a price tag of around $1.5 million

The median price in Orange County was $1.26 million, up from $1.195 million in January and $995,000 in February 2021.

Between traffic, progressive policies that have never undergone a cost-benefit analysis, cancel culture, and cost, the incessant day-to-day pressure of staying sane in California can be daunting. 

And I haven’t even touched the homeless crisis, crime, or education.

Living in a place like Florida or Tennessee or Texas with little to no state income tax, gas hovering around $3 a gallon, and a lot more space makes living worry-free a bit easier. Not to mention men who don’t wear skinny jeans, but that’s a topic for another discussion. 

While I continue to fight the good fight on the west coast, I may be turning in my California kombucha for Tennessee whiskey sooner than later. No doubt, I won’t be alone. 

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