Californians Are Relocating in Huge Numbers: Where Are They Going?

In 2021, about 360,000 people relocated from California to another state–or, in some cases, country. That’s up from about 275,000 the year before, and both of those numbers represent a significant increase from pre-pandemic departure rates. 

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Table of Contents
  1. Why are People Moving Out of California? 
  2. Leaving Los Angeles
  3. How Will Declining Population Impact California? 

Of course, people move in and out of states all the time, and the pandemic created new incentives and offered new opportunities for relocation. But, in California, departures far outnumber arrivals. The state’s population dropped by more than 182,000 in 2020 and then declined by 117,552 in 2021. 

The decline in population isn’t entirely attributable to migration. The birth rate dropped during the pandemic, and mortality ran high. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 70% of U.S counties saw a natural decrease in population in 2021. A natural decrease in population occurs when deaths outnumber births. 

Still, significantly more people moved out of California than into the state during 2020 and 2021. In fact, just one U.S. state has had a larger exodus in recent years. And, data thus far suggests that the trend continues in 2022. So far this year, the ratio of people moving into California to those moving out of California is 37 to 100. 

Why are People Moving Out of California? 

People relocate for a variety of reasons, some general and some specific to California. Some are a mix. For example, the trend toward remote work during the pandemic freed up many Americans to move. For the first time, many found themselves in a situation where they didn’t have to choose between a job and their preferred geography. People relocated for proximity to family, for wide open spaces where they could social distance in the sun, for weather, and to save money, among other reasons. 

Of course, the last item on that list plays a significant role for former and soon-to-be-former Californians. Some other commonly-cited reasons include: 

  • Housing shortages and the high cost of housing
  • High taxes, including income taxes and property taxes
  • Relatively high rate of unemployment, especially in certain areas
  • Natural disasters

Most of these variables aren’t entirely new, and neither is the trend toward people moving out of state. But, it’s accelerated in the past few years. 

Of course, where a person or family chooses to go when they leave California depends in part on their reasons for leaving. It also depends in part on personal variables, like where their close family members live or what type of weather they prefer. Still, there are some significant trends in where people choose to relocate after moving out of California. 

Most Common Places People Migrate from California

Texas is currently the number one destination state for those leaving California. That’s been true for several years, though some of the other top destination states have shifted recently. 

Research from UCLA showed that between 2015 and 2019, Texas held the number one slot. The other most common destination states were Arizona, Nevada, Washington and Oregon. Different age groups chose differently, too: while Texas was the top choice among younger and middle-aged adults, those aged 60 and older preferred Arizona and Nevada. 

Other variables, such as education and income bracket also impacted the destination state, though Texas held the lead across all levels of income

In the past couple of years, Florida has edged its way into the number two slot. It’s not just Californians who are headed to the Southeast: four of the U.S. cities with the greatest growth so far in 2022 are in Florida, and eight of the top 10 are in the Southeast. According to the Allied and Zillow 2021 Magnet States Report, most of those relocating for work are headed to Texas, while others they describe as “consumers” favor Florida. 

Leaving Los Angeles

The Los Angeles / Long Beach area has one of the highest rates of outbound migration in the state and the country. Los Angeles residents are more significantly impacted by some of the variables causing people to leave the state than those in many other parts of California. For example, in June, the unemployment rate in Los Angeles County was 5.2%, a full point higher than the overall rate for California and considerably above the 3.6% national average. 

Several of the U.S. cities with the highest median home prices are located in California, and as of this spring the Los Angeles area came in at number two, with a median home price of just under $1 million. Renters don’t fare much better: Los Angeles is the eighth-most-expensive city to rent in, with five others in the top ten scattered throughout California. 

And, of course, the Los Angeles area is one of several in the state that has been ravaged by wildfires in the past few years. 

So, where do people go when they leave the Los Angeles area and move out of state? 

The Allied report referenced above says the top five destination cities for Los Angeles area residents moving out of state are: 

  1. Dallas, TX
  2. Austin-San Marcos, TX
  3. Chicago, IL
  4. Atlanta, GA
  5. Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, WA

An older but more in-depth Stacker report shows that the top three cities Los Angeles residents relocate to are actually in California. The top out-of-state destinations for 2015-2019 included: 

  • Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV
  • Phoenix-Mesa-Chandler, AZ
  • Dallas-Fort Worth–Arlington, TX

How Will Declining Population Impact California? 

It’s difficult to predict at this point how the shifting population will impact the state. We don’t know how long the trend will continue, and different experts are focused on different impacts. For example, some are hoping to see a cooling off in the housing market as demand drops–a shortage of housing has been a key variable in increased prices.

But, others are focused on concerns about loss of tax revenues and how that may impact operations in the state. Still others openly say the shifting of the U.S. population that accelerated during the pandemic is still underway, and it’s impossible to say what the ultimate distribution will look like and how that will impact specific areas. 

It’s no secret that the high cost of living in California is a factor playing a role in these moves, and that people across the state are struggling financially. If debt is weighing you down, but moving isn’t something you’re seeing as an option, contact one of our debt relief experts today for a free consultation to see if viable alternatives exist.

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