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Are Californians really bailing on the Golden State?

Where ya headed, pardner?
Where ya headed, pardner?
dherrera_96/Flickr (cc by-nc-nd)

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A new study by the conservative Manhattan Institute says that Californians are leaving the state in droves, searching for cheaper living conditions and a more favorable business climate.

"In the last 20 years, California has switched from being a state that was a big in-migration magnet to one that sheds people to other states," said lead author Tom Gray.

Not so fast, say well-studied naysayers, who allege that the study is light on hard evidence. It’s true that the film and TV industry has been shooting more in states who give bigger tax breaks to production companies, but California’s slowing growth rate may be chalked up to myriad factors.

"Who wants such a high growth rate when your state is pushing 40 million already?" added demographer Dowell Myers. "California is returning to a normal level for the whole U.S., and most Californians don't want to have excess growth."

Gray said the decrease in raw growth is neither good nor bad. "It's not so much an issue of whether California is bigger," he continued. "It's if people are leaving, why they are leaving, and if that's indicating if something else is wrong."

Though population continues to increase due to foreign migration and resident births, overall growth has come down as Californians search for jobs and cheaper housing. But Gray said lowering housing costs isn't a viable solution.

"You're not going to lower prices for housing because people – that's their wealth," he said.

According to Myers, there's merit in California's expensive price tags. "Prices are high because they're attractive. We invest in human capital. Other places are low because people aren't competing to get there," he noted. "The unemployment rate in California is very high right now. That's actually causing us to lose more than we're gaining because of the cheaper prices."

To Myers, the answer lies in bolstering education quality.

"California is slipping in what it can offer to high level talent and their families, and we need to shore up our education system again, to once again make it attractive so people can recruit good workers," he said.

Are you considering leaving California’s sunshine behind? Why would you choose to stay or go?


Tom Gray, editor, writer, communications consultant and lead author of the Manhattan Institute’s study “The Great California Exodus: A Closer Look”

Dowell Myers, demographer and professor at the Sol Price School of Public Policy at USC