Debunking San Francisco’s pandemic exodus delusion

From Soumya Karlamangla

New York Times

Since the early days of the pandemic, we’ve heard Californians giving up their normal lifestyles in favor of greener, cheaper pastures.

There are the San Franciscans who survived lockdown orders in Lake Tahoe and the Angelenos with new desert huts in Joshua Tree. There are many stories of Silicon Valley guys moving to Miami and Seattle or renting acres of land in Idaho.

The story goes like this: The coronavirus and the ability to work remotely have fundamentally changed the way we live – and major California cities, particularly San Francisco and Los Angeles, are not on the list.

But is that really true?

I start with the short answer. There has been no exodus from California, but the pandemic forces have shifted where people live within the state. These moving patterns reflect what we saw before COVID-19, but in full swing.

Here’s how that works out.

California’s population declined slightly in 2020, but that wasn’t due to mass migration to other states. This is due to coronavirus deaths, a lower birth rate and fewer international arrivals.

According to a report from the California Policy Lab, 82% of Californians who moved last year stayed in the state. That number has remained largely stable over the past five years.

“There are far more people moving within the state than outside the state,” said Eric McGhee, senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California. “This movement usually takes place within a particular metropolitan area, and a large part of it is people moving to suburbs and outskirts.”

Californians are likely to move from Los Angeles to the Inland Empire or from San Francisco to the outskirts of the Bay Area or the Sacramento region, McGhee said. Because they want cheaper apartments, but not so far away that they have to change jobs.

It’s been like that for a long time. The largest net county-to-county migrations in California between 2015 and 2019, according to census data:

  • San Francisco to Alameda (5,469)
  • San Francisco to San Mateo (4,239)
  • Los Angeles to San Bernardino (20,809 people)
  • Los Angeles to Riverside (13,949)
  • Los Angeles to Orange (11,879)
  • Alameda to Contra Costa (9,246)
  • Orange to Riverside (8,282)
  • Los Angeles to Kern (6,032)
  • San Diego to Riverside (5,892)
  • Alameda to San Joaquin (4,134)

With the emergence of the pandemic in 2020, some of these trends got underway.

The Inland Empire tied Phoenix in 2020 for the nation’s largest increase in households from migration, the Wall Street Journal recently reported. The influx of people into Riverside and San Bernardino Counties has increased 50% year over year.

This reflects the desire of the Californians to escape the exorbitant home prices of other coastal regions. The average single-family home price in Riverside County was $ 570,000 in August, compared to $ 830,070 in Los Angeles County and $ 1.85 million in San Francisco.

Expensive San Francisco was experiencing one of the most significant churns in the pandemic, as the New York Times found in a recent analysis. While “migration patterns during the pandemic were very similar to previous migration patterns,” this is not the case for San Francisco, they wrote.

In The City, net outlets – the number of departures minus the number of people arriving – rose to 38,800 in the last three quarters of 2020, compared to 5,200 in the same period last year, according to the California Policy Lab report. It is estimated that the city lost an eighth of its total households in the past year.

But perhaps this is good news for those battling the myth of a California exodus: two-thirds of the San Franciscans who fled ended up in other parts of the Bay Area, and 80% stayed in the state.

This article originally appeared in the New York Times.

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