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Where Angelenos go when they flee high-cost California

The top out-of-state destinations for departing Angelenos is metro Las Vegas, a KPCC analysis of census data shows. GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

Offering home affordability and an improving job market, Las Vegas has been by far the most popular destination for Angelenos relocating out of state, a KPCC analysis of census figures found.

Between 2011 and 2015, nearly 13,000 people left Los Angeles County for metro Las Vegas.

Advertising executive Arlene Wszalek and her husband moved from Studio City to Vegas in 2014, drawn by the food and wine scene, and lower cost of living. There’s no state income tax. And, home prices are still recovering from a national mortgage crisis that hit Vegas especially hard.  

"You can get a really amazing house within a great neighborhood for probably the high’s 2’s to the high 4’s," said Wszalek, who shares listings with a friend in Los Angeles.  

Metro Phoenix came in second on the list of top out-of-state destinations. The median home price for both Phoenix and Vegas is less than $300,000. In Los Angeles, it is more than twice that.

Third place went to Seattle, where the median home price — $690,000 —  is about $60,000 higher than in L.A. But University of Southern California demographer Dowell Myers said Seattle has other upsides, especially to younger adults. 

"Seattle's a job destination and a quality of life destination," Myers said. "The people who move the most are in their 20s, and they like Seattle."

Dallas and Houston rounded out the top 5. 

Top relocation metros for people from Los Angeles County 
(Destination county and number of people who left, 2011 to 2015)

1. Las Vegas metro (Clark County, 12,655 people)
2. Phoenix metro (Maricopa County, 5,824 people)
3. Seattle metro (King County, 4,232 people)
4. Houston metro (Harris County, 3,174 people)
5. Dallas metro (Dallas County, 2,659 people) 

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, KPCC analysis

Various surveys have shown that Californians are willing to move for cheaper housing. A Berkeley poll out this week showed that nearly 60 percent of Angelenos were mulling a move because of housing pressures.

Michael Stoll, who teaches public policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that the disproportionate share of people leaving L.A. are lower-to-moderate income renters and househunters who are most intensely feeling the brunt of high housing costs. But Stoll said they have to weigh a move against family ties and social connections that they would leave behind if they relocated. 

"It's a challenge that people are having to grapple with: how can you afford housing and be able to have what you think should be part of American dream?" Stoll said.  

For Cyndy Hernandez, Las Vegas checks off all the boxes. It's not too far from her family in Fontana so she can go back to visit once a month. But it's far away enough that she can create her own life, working for NARAL Pro-Choice Nevada, and living in a luxury apartment complex with a roommate paying $590 per month — "the cheapest I've ever paid. Period."

Hernandez, a 30-year-old University of Southern California graduate, said her plan is to buy a home in Vegas in the next several years — something she wouldn't dream of doing if she were single in L.A.

"If I were still living in L.A., I'd be paying too much money in rent, and not saving money for a down payment on a house," Hernandez said.  

Jonas Peterson and his family moved to Las Vegas from the Santa Clarita Valley more than four years ago so he could take a job heading the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance, which promotes local businesses. 

Peterson said transplants from Southern California are initially drawn to the lower cost of living Las Vegas offers. At the same time, the job market is expanding to include more manufacturing, logistics and even video game production, Peterson said.

What's been more surprising to him about the Vegas area are the strong community networks and family-friendly amenities.

"Our church life is amazing," Peterson said. "The parks and recreation — we honestly didn't expect that and have been blown away."