Friday, June 30, 2023








        It was déjà vu all over again when this state’s largest newspaper and three major non-profits published a study showing 40 percent of Californians are thinking of leaving the state, while 70 percent are happy here.


        Oops! How can the total of happy people and those thinking of moving top 100 percent by a big margin? Easy: Plenty of folks are ambivalent, as always; they’re happy, but wonder if things might be even better someplace else.


        That mix of feelings has been fed by a steady diet of sometimes bogus news about California’s dropping population (far less than 2 percent over the last decade), which inspires many to think that if bunches of people are leaving, maybe there’s a good reason for it.



        The purveyors of the supposedly newsworthy report never admitted their study is a virtual duplicate of one the Rand Corp. think tank conducted back in 1970.


        That was 53 years ago, when researchers found an average of one in seven Californians at the time were moving each year, some within the state, some to other points. That means 49 percent of Californians were considering moves during any typical seven-year span.


        The reason given by those long-ago researchers: Wanderlust.


        It was natural for Californians to wonder if the grass is greener someplace else and many still do.


        The same wanderlust explains why many folks from other places came to California in the first place. U.S. Census figures show 27 percent of Californians are foreign born, double the nationwide percentage, and 28 percent hail from other states.


        So more than half the populace moved here from somewhere else. That doesn’t count their children.


        Just over half of Californians, a far higher percentage than in any other state, already know what it’s like to move. They’ve demonstrated some wanderlust previously, some curiosity about what life is like in a different place.


        It comes as no shock that they can get intrigued about the idea of moving again, especially if a move offers the opportunity for big-time financial advancement.

        And it can. The same study that drew the headlines by breathlessly reporting very old news also reported that finances are the main reason Californians move to other states. That’s been reported here and elsewhere for many years; it’s stoked by the fact this state’s real estate is far higher priced than similar properties in other states.


        In fact, similar-sized homes in Texas (the No. 1 destination of migrants from California) often cost less than half what homeowners here can sell for. So for some Californians, moving is the best way to make use of equity they’ve built by living in the same house for seven years or more.


        Some, in fact, buy twice their prior acreage and floor space in Idaho or Arizona, drawing resentment from longtime local residents by driving prices up to unaffordable levels for natives. Expat Californians then often have enough left over to live sumptuously without needing a job.


        Other California emigrants, untethered from their offices by the coronavirus pandemic, live even higher, combining their old incomes with their new profits.


        It’s true, anxiety over California’s future and a feeling among some that the state is headed in the “wrong” direction was another factor showing up in the study. But economics were by far the single biggest push to leave, just as in the last three decades.


        And then there are the regrets, not measured in the new study, but well documented elsewhere. Almost half those leaving California, one 2021 study reported, find themselves in shock when their first freezing winter hits in Idaho or Minnesota, or when hurricanes begin flooding neighborhoods in Texas and Florida.


        Trouble is, once they cash out, it’s not so easy for emigrants to backtrack and return to California. The same real estate equation that convinced them to move now hinders their moving back.


        The bottom line: When you see a well-hyped story about yet another study of why people leave California, always remember the tale is not as simple as any one study can imply. Nor is a new report necessarily anything really new.



    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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