A mass exodus from California? Not exactly, says new Berkeley study

March 4, 2021
By: Sean Coffey
A classic convertible automobile, full of people, driving down a street in San Francisco's Chinatown district
Recent reports have suggested that Californians are fleeing the state in droves. But a new study from the UC Berkeley California Policy Lab finds that reports of a mass exodus are exaggerated. (Photo by Pom' via Flickr)

New research released today by the UC Berkeley California Policy Lab finds that, contrary to some news media reports suggesting a mass exodus from California, most moves in 2020 happened within the state. Exits from California in 2020 largely mirrored historical patterns, while the biggest change was a decrease in people moving into the state.  

“While a mass exodus from California clearly didn’t happen in 2020, the pandemic did change some historical patterns,” explained author Natalie Holmes, a research fellow at the California Policy Lab and a graduate student at the Goldman School of Public Policy. “For example, fewer people moved into the state to replace those who left.”

The Policy Lab research team, using a new dataset of quarterly credit bureau data, analyzed where Californians from each county moved after the pandemic lockdowns began in March 2020. The researchers did find one regional migration that Holmes described as “unique and dramatic” — a large increase in exits from San Francisco. While San Francisco movers’ destinations mirror those in recent years, the sheer number of movers has produced large influxes to some Sierra and Northern California counties.

Although it is not yet clear whether these shifts will prove to be temporary or longer-lasting, the stakes of such migrations are high, the report says. Significant population shifts could affect the size and composition of regional labor markets as well as rent and home values. Some fear that mass departures by the state’s wealthy could reduce local and state tax revenues, potentially affecting government services.

Read the full California Policy Lab study