Fleeing California

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The Manhattan Institute – based in New York City – continues to fill the vacuum of free-market-oriented public policy research in California. (I’m glad someone, somewhere still cares about our plight in this state.) Today (September 24, 2012) it released a new study explaining the continued flight of middle class and lower-middle class people from California: The Great California Exodus: A Closer Look.

The NET outflow from California to other states since 1990 is 3.4 million. In percentage terms, California joins New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Illinois, and Michigan among the states where people are leaving at significant rates for metaphorically greener pastures. (Literally, they seem to be moving to the desert.)

In every region of California, more people are leaving than arriving. The Manhattan Institute study claims that people are leaving mainly to escape a difficult economic environment and a tax-and-spend political culture. They are seeking a lower cost of living, better management of public resources, and a business climate more suitable for economic growth and job creation.

Of course, motivations are in the eye of the beholder. From a perspective that puts a priority on environmental protection, departures from California (especially by adults of breeding age) are highly desirable. Many prosperous liberal Californians would opine that many of the people moving to other states lack sophistication, enlightenment, and social tolerance. The destinations of choice (ranked by the Manhattan Institute) elicit groans, snickers, and sneers from many of those who stay:

  1. Texas
  2. Nevada
  3. Arizona
  4. Oregon
  5. Washington
  6. Colorado
  7. Idaho
  8. Utah
  9. Georgia
  10. South Carolina

You can see both perspectives about this migration on full display in the 1629 comments posted in response to an article in the April 20, 2012 Wall Street Journal (Joel Kotkin: The Great California Exodus) about the flight of the middle class out of California. Someone who claims to have moved out of California three weeks earlier even commented with a top-ten list of reasons to leave (thus earning 117 reader recommendations):

  1. Artificially high Real Estate Prices, driven up by Government.
  2. Gov run by Unions without regard to the People of Cali.
  3. Failure to properly manage traffic, boondoggles on Rail as an example
  4. Idiotic Taxes at all levels
  5. Taxes spent on idiotic political projects
  6. Anti-American attitude of the Gov and Unions who run the state.
  7. Control mentality of the Politicians and Unions.
  8. Destruction of the California economy by Government and Unions.
  9. Attitude that the People work for the Gov.
  10. Lack of respect for non-liberals, and the law.

(Note: an appropriate California response to this list is that the word “idiotic” should not be used. It’s on the list of marginally un-PC words to avoid in public discourse.)

The observations of the Manhattan Institute are not new. In August 2000, the Public Policy Institute of California published a study called Movin’ Out: Domestic Migration to and from California in the 1990s. A press release announcing the study stated the following:

The 1990s marked a major shift in the domestic migration trends that have long characterized California. During the past decade, as many as two million more people left California to live in other states than came here from elsewhere in the United States, according to a new analysis by the Public Policy Institute of California. During most of the 20th century, domestic migration was a larger source of the state’s overall population growth than international immigration. The reverse is now true.

In Movin’ Out: Domestic Migration to and from California in the 1990s, demographer Hans Johnson finds that most domestic migrants left the state in the recession years of the early 1990s. However, he finds that California was still losing as many residents to other states as it was gaining during the boom times later in the decade.

In addition, for a few years I’ve heard critics of Big Government make speeches in which they cite the cost to rent a U-Haul from somewhere in California to Austin and compare it to the cost to rent a U-Haul from Austin to somewhere in California. The idea to make this comparison (called “U-Haul Economics” by a Club for Growth blogger or the “U-Haul Economic Indicator” by an American Enterprise Institute blogger) may originate with a study produced for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) called Rich States, Poor States. Numerous sources on the web claim that the 2009 edition contained this quote:

When comparing California with Texas, U-Haul says it all. To rent a 26-foot truck one way from San Francisco to Austin, the charge is $3,236, and yet the one-way charge for that same truck from Austin to San Francisco is just $399. Clearly what is happening is that far more people want to move from San Francisco to Austin than vice versa, so U-Haul has to pay its own employees to drive the empty trucks back from Texas.

Here are U-Haul prices as of today (September 24, 2012) for picking up a 20-foot truck on October 1:

Los Angeles to Austin: $1,376.00

Austin to Los Angeles: $678.00

San Francisco to Austin: $1,682.00

Austin to San Francisco: $735.00

How would Governor Jerry Brown and Democrat legislative leaders explain that away? Perhaps they would brush it off by exposing the American Legislative Exchange Council as a “right-wing organization” that advances regressive ideas such as limited government, free markets, and federalism. And the “U-Haul Economic Indicator” is worthless because it is used by the “right-wing” Club for Growth and the “right-wing” American Enterprise Institute.

Applying these labels typically brings finality to most public policy arguments in California. No wonder people want to leave.

Personally, I hope people eventually stop moving out of California, because soon the remnant will consist of rich people who don’t pay taxes, poor people who don’t pay taxes, and a small middle class that works in government. I don’t make enough money to keep this system operating for all of them.


  1. […] These jobs aren’t going to China. Campbell’s Soups will shift the Sacramento plant’s share of soup production to its plants in North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas. More people will be fleeing California. […]

  2. elmer fudd says:

    I recently moved to Austin Texas from California because I could no longer take the politics. Now that the state has a Democratic super majority it’s only a matter of time before the state goes broke.
    Texas is a great place and the people here have made us feel very welcome. My only hope is that the Californians who have ruined the state with their liberal agenda stay in California. Texas does not want you.