For months, there have been rumblings of an economically catastrophic “Cal exodus,” in which some claim that people have been leaving the Golden State in droves due to disastrous public policy. Such rumblings prompted an investigation led by the University of California system. And despite the threat of competition from states like Texas, a mirror image of the cannabis-friendly Golden State, the research shows that reports of California’s death have been greatly exaggerated.
The project, officially “a fact-based, empirical approach to California’s population patterns, helping to inform state policy and public knowledge,” included studies conducted by scholars at UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC San Diego, Stanford, and Cornell, the token non-Californian institution. The sum total of the evidence strongly suggests that May’s 0.46 percent drop in population was a blip, and not the start of significant movement out of the state.
A recent UC San Diego survey found that 23 percent of California’s voters said they were seriously considering leaving the state, a one percent drop from 2019. That’s despite the fact that there was an eight percent decrease in the percentage of Californians who say the state is one of the best places to live, from 50 percent in a 2019 UC Berkeley poll to 42 percent in the UC San Diego poll. Some residents might be less satisfied, but not many are contemplating getting out.
“Despite the popular notion of unhappy Californians leaving the state en masse, our robust research shows there is actually no exodus,” said Thad Kousser, chair of the political science department at UC San Diego and the lead researcher of the most recent survey.
Significantly, there are two Californians who believe in the “California Dream” (that it’s a great place to live and raise a family) for every one Californian who doesn’t. Younger Californians and those of color are more likely to be optimistic while white Californians, particularly those in the middle class, and Republicans are most pessimistic.
Much of the hand-wringing has focused on the supposed flight of wealthy Californians fleeing higher taxes and more regulations on their businesses in the state and taking their fortunes with them. The study found that these concerns, too, were overblown.
In fact, the wealthy are the group most satisfied with the direction the state is moving in. California also continues to draw half of all venture capital funding in the United States, so despite the growth of the tech sector in cities like New York and Austin, Silicon Valley continues to dominate tech.
“Sliced and diced by geography, race, income and other demographic factors, our efforts have produced a clearer picture of who perceives California as the Golden State versus a failed state. The empirical data will be, at once, disappointing to those who want to write California’s obituary, as well as a call to action for policymakers to address the challenges that have caused some to lose faith in the California Dream,” said UC Regent and former Speaker of the California Assembly John A. Pérez.
So while California has its fair share of problems, losing a critical share of its citizens isn’t one of them.