Racial/Ethnic Differences in Who’s Leaving California

Over the last decade, California’s population growth has slowed to a crawl and, in the last two years, has even begun to decline. This stunning shift is a function of slowing birth rates, an increase in deaths due to the pandemic and an aging population, and less immigration. Adding to these drags on growth, the flow of Californians moving to other states has also accelerated. On net, California lost over a quarter of a million residents to other states in 2021 alone.

This domestic outmigration is concentrated among Californians with lower incomes and lower levels of educational attainment, who likely struggle with the state’s high costs for housing, gas, and other essentials. This may raise issues of racial equity, since people of color account for a disproportionate share of lower-income Californians. Are people of color leaving the state at higher rates?

While it is true that California has been losing African Americans and Latinos to other states, non-Hispanic whites actually have the highest out-migration rates by a small margin. From 2016 to 2020, 7.3 more whites left the state than arrived for every 1,000 white Californians, compared to 6.5 for African Americans. Latinos left at about half that rate—3.6 per 1,000—while Asian Americans had a net flow into the state of 1.5 per 1,000.

Cost of living is clearly a major factor, as lower-income members of every racial and ethnic group leave more often than they arrive. But there are large racial gaps even within income levels. For the lowest-income residents, whites have a much higher net flow out of the state (-10.9 per 1,000) than African Americans (-7.7), Latinos (-4.2), and Asian Americans (-1.6). At the other end of the spectrum, higher-income Asian Americans are notably more likely to move into the state than out of it (4.8 per 1,000). In contrast, higher-income African Americans are about equally likely to move into or out of the state (-0.2 per 1,000), while higher-income Latinos (-1.6) and whites (-2.9) are more likely to move out of the state.

Though these numbers confirm that cost is a major driver pushing Californians to move to other states, the racial and ethnic differences also suggest more at work than just economics. Family ties, cultural fit, occupational mix, or even politics may play some independent role and constrain what can be done to address these trends. PPIC will continue to explore these important trends and examine the factors driving people to leave the state.