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Will California continue to see a population decrease? San Diego leaders discuss

California’s population shrank by 508,903 people during the first two years of the pandemic, second behind only New York.

A half-million people leaving California, which has a population of more than 39 million, isn’t exactly a large-scale exodus — but it does have some policymakers concerned about the state’s future.

Texas and Florida saw their populations increase during the same time period.

Experts say the reasons for Californians leaving are high housing costs, congestion, crime and pollution. Some demographic experts have suggested much of the migration was the result of Californians “seeking safe refuge during the pandemic” and might not be a long-term phenomenon.

Q: Will California continue to see a population decrease?

James Hamilton, UC San Diego

YES: This is not just about COVID. San Diego’s population has been falling since 2018 and Los Angeles has been losing people since 2017. The high cost of housing, taxes, traffic congestion, and burdens of running a business in California have been leading people and businesses to relocate to states like Texas and Florida. California could fix all these problems. But until we do, I don’t expect population growth to return to its historical pace.

Austin Neudecker, Weave Growth

NO: Perhaps, in the short term, and if economic discrepancies continue to widen, we can expect small departures. Over longer periods, I believe the open and accepting culture, foreign immigration, quality higher education, and innovation and investment mecca producing new companies will attract people to California. That said, I am slightly concerned about the growing tax differences for both individuals and companies and wish states did not race to the bottom to incentivize moves.

Kirti Gupta, Qualcomm

Not participating this week.

Chris Van Gorder, Scripps Health

YES: California will continue losing residents as long as the cost of living — housing, energy costs and the highest taxes in the nation, etc. — continues to increase. States like Texas and Florida with lower taxes and costs will end up becoming the Golden States. I have physicians telling me they are leaving the state because of the high taxes and costs combined with the lowest Medi-Cal reimbursement in the country. Even physicians can’t afford to stay here.

Norm Miller, University of San Diego

NO: Over the next several years, California will continue to see an exodus of young workers, their families, and growing companies driven out, mostly by high housing costs and high taxes. Our birth-less-death rates will marginally offset these population losses and result in modest net population growth. The housing challenges that drive people away will continue as the state and cities interfere with the housing market, or add such burdensome requirements that major developers stay away from the state.

Jamie Moraga, Franklin Revere

YES: Many Californians are either leaving or debating whether to leave. California is losing its appeal with a lack of affordable housing, high utilities and gas prices, cumbersome regulations and policies, high taxes, and its unfriendly business environment. The weather can only take residents so far before they start seeking other states that offer a better cost of living and quality of life. This could just be the start of the exodus.

David Ely, San Diego State University

YES: The high cost of housing and diminished employment opportunities in the technology sector will contribute to California’s population decline for several years. However, domestic outward migration from the state was greater at the start of the pandemic than from July 2021 to July 2022. Over time, this component of population change should move closer to historical norms. Patterns of births and deaths and international net migration will continue to contribute to population growth.

Ray Major, SANDAG

YES: California’s population will grow slightly over the next few years. With factors like an aging population, lower-than-expected birth rates, and more people leaving than entering, the state’s population growth is headed toward a long-term decline. Combined with an unaffordable cost of living, the Golden State is slowly inching away from its famous tagline as the land of opportunity.

Caroline Freund, UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy

NO: Long-term trends suggest slowing population growth but not decline. Given recent shocks, population movements over the last couple of years are unlikely to persist. Still, California could do more to attract and retain businesses. States like Texas, which have been growing their populations and attracting businesses, have lower taxes and leaner and more transparent business regulations.

Haney Hong, San Diego County Taxpayers Assoc.

YES: So long as our schools continue to rank near the bottom, our streets are lined with tent encampments, the costs of doing business escalate, and our housing is inaccessible to hard-working professionals and families, people will vote with their feet. They’ll move to where everything — taxes, energy, water, quality education — just costs less. Good weather and life’s pleasures in California don’t pay the bills, and while many things do grow on trees here, money sure doesn’t.

Kelly Cunningham, San Diego Institute for Economic Research

YES: California’s domestic migration has been negative nearly every year since 1992. Only because foreign migration and natural increase were enough had the state’s total population continued to increase. With the pandemic shutdown of 2020, births and foreign migration sharply plummeted leaving the first annual decline in population over the state’s 170-year history. With foreign migration now somewhat resuming, as birth rates remain low, and out-migration remains elevated, California’s net population will continue declining this year.

Lynn Reaser, economist

YES: California’s population shrank by 211,000 in 2022 and further declines can be expected. High home prices and taxes will continue to push people out of the state. There will also be a pull factor as exiting California companies take their employees with them. Net domestic out-migration will exceed the natural increase of births minus deaths and modest increases in foreign immigration. The ability to work remotely will facilitate this trend.

Phil Blair, Manpower

YES: California is such an expensive state to live in that we will continue to lose young people who want to buy a house and start their families. The American dream. It is no coincidence that Texas and Florida, both with no state income taxes, are attracting both startup families and the wealthy. There may be a message here.

Gary London, London Moeder Advisors

NO: I am not particularly concerned about net out-migration. The numbers are small, and our state has experienced this phenomenon previously, and then subsequently rebounded. I am not advocating complacency. Persons leaving have legitimate concerns that are not easily solved and must be addressed. Over the long run, our economy is resilient and inviting. Climate change will probably more negatively impact Texas and Florida and prove to be a net positive for California.

Alan Gin, University of San Diego

YES: The high cost of living in California, particularly for housing, has long been a problem for the state. The pandemic and the spread of remote working allowed workers to keep their jobs but move to places where housing is cheaper, and that is likely to continue. Also, natural population growth is slowing due to reduced fertility rates, especially as incomes rise. In the past, out-migration and slow natural growth have been offset by immigration from overseas, but that has been reduced in recent years.

Bob Rauch, R.A. Rauch & Associates

YES: If we lose companies that are providing jobs it is bad and it is caused by our regulations, taxes, fees, increased crime and lack of housing. We will continue losing people until we attract them by offering fewer regulations for businesses, a tax rate that rewards hard work and productivity, and affordable housing. Then, we need to clean up our homelessness issue and arrest people for crimes that should be punishable. Result, net migration.

Have an idea for an EconoMeter question? Email me at [email protected]. Follow me on Twitter: @PhillipMolnar


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