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No ‘mass exodus’ in California during the pandemic, study finds


No, Californians have not been packing up and leaving the Golden State en masse during the Covid-19 pandemic.

That’s despite some headlines and anecdotal claims to the contrary, according to a new study published Thursday by the nonpartisan California Policy Lab.

And as for the thousands of Californians who did move during 2020, most stayed within the state’s borders, researchers found.

A ‘unique and dramatic’ exodus from San Francisco

On the other hand, people did depart San Francisco in droves, the study found.

The city saw a 649 percent jump in people leaving the city from the beginning of pandemic-related shutdowns to the end of 2020, compared to 2019 patterns.

In 2019, 5,200 net exits occurred, compared to 38,800 in 2020.

But they didn’t go very far.

Two-thirds of the people who moved out of San Francisco remained within the 11-county Bay Area region, with 80% remaining in California.

At the county level, San Francisco is experiencing a “unique and dramatic exodus,” author Natalie Holmes, a research fellow at the California Policy Lab, said in a statement.

A shift in historical patterns

“While a mass exodus from California clearly didn’t happen in 2020, the pandemic did change some historical patterns,” Holmes said.

The number of people leaving the state usually equals the number of people entering it, but this was no longer the case at the end of 2020.

About 267,000 people — or roughly half the population of Wyoming — left, while just 128,000 moved in.

The California Policy Lab determined this by looking at data from a new University of California Consumer Credit Panel, which contains residential locations for Californians with credit history.

Economic impact

Some have speculated that Californians would leave the state during the pandemic for more affordable living and flexibility in remote work, causing concerns wealthy households could flee the state en masse.

Population shifts on a large scale could affect regional labor markets, rent and home values, while reducing local and state tax revenues, potentially affecting government services.

But for now, rumors of the wealthy leaving California remain just that, according to the researchers.

“Some folks seem to be worried about the tax implications of wealthy individuals leaving the state, but we don’t yet see any dramatic evidence that rich households are fleeing California en masse,” Evan White, executive director of the California Policy Lab, said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, because the state relies heavily on income taxes on the uber-wealthy, the departure of even small numbers of wealthy people could negatively impact revenues if they aren’t replaced with new entrants,” White said.

Despite the findings, Silicon Valley, the tech epicenter containing some of the nation’s highest housing costs and tax rates, is thought to be experiencing an exodus.

A trickle of tech giants have been announcing their departure from California to Texas, with its less-strict tax laws and cheaper housing.

Companies like Oracle and Hewlett Packard are among several big firms that announced their move-out plans in 2020.

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