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What the New York Times Won’t Admit About California

GUEST COMMENTARY - Even the New York Times has to admit unpleasant realities, like the departure of people from California and other deep blue states.

But one thing the paper, and other similarly-minded reporters based here, will never admit: the connection between the California economy and regulation and the rising out-migrations.

The Times accepts that people are leaving in part due to costs, but puts much emphasis on other factors, like the decline in immigration under the monstrous Trump, Covid deaths and falling birthrates. Yet these factors have occurred across the country, and other regions, notably in the sunbelt and the South, have experienced rapid population growth. It turns out that policy choices that California has made seems the likely prime cause for the state’s shocking demographic decline.

This net out-migration, as the Times admits, has been going on for decades. Some people, particularly in academia and the mainstream media, continue to label claims of an “exodus” as essentially false; the LA Times, a good barometer of political correctness on the West Coast, called it “a myth” reflective of the political bias of “haters.” But as we show in our recent Chapman University report, since 2000, California has lost 2.6 million net domestic migrants — more than the current combined population of San Diego, San Francisco, and Anaheim (the cities). 

In 2020, California accounted for 28% of all net domestic out-migration in the nation — about 50% more than its share of the US population (19%).

Totally ignored by the Times, and their cheaper imitators, is a possible connection between out-migration and an economy where, over the last decade, 80% of all new jobs paid less than the median income. On a per-capita basis over the last 30 years, California had lower per-capita job growth in virtually every industry sector than its prime competitor states, and does particularly poorly in higher wage blue collar sectors like construction and manufacturing. Amid some of the great concentrations of wealth in the world, upwards of a third or more of the population is either poor or a pay cheque away from it.

Critically, those leaving are not primarily old folks or the poor without prospects, but increasingly, people who are middle class and in the family years between 34 and 54. This accounts in part for California’s now-below average birth rate, with San Francisco and Los Angeles competing for the lowest fertility rate among the major urban centres.

Finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, the decline in immigration during the Trump years did not affect other places as much as California. In a report for Heartland Forward, we could show that while the foreign-born population actually dropped in Los Angeles during the past decade, it grew rapidly in other places like Austin, Dallas, Houston Miami, Nashville as well as some Midwestern hotspots like Columbus, Indianapolis, and Des Moines.

Ultimately the prime causes lie outside the factors focused on by the Times, but are rooted in policies that have made the state among the most expensive. That includes sky-high energy costs, outrageously priced housing markets, as well as the one-party regime’s inability to address surging crime and widespread homelessness. 

Unless progressives begin to address the shortcomings of their own policy agenda, they will continue to be bedevilled by the reasons why people would leave this most blessed of blue states.

(Joel Kotkin is a writer for UnHerd and Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is author of “The City: A Global History” and “The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050.” His most recent book is “The New Class Conflict.”  Joel Kotkin lives in Orange County.)