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Nearly 1 million residents left California in 2022 fueled by cost of living

California could lose more than the five, already projected, congressional seats it’s expected to shed after the 2030 census.

Published: October 23, 2023 11:09pm

(The Center Square) -

The exodus from California accelerated in 2022, with 817,000 residents leaving the state in 2022 for an annual net loss of over three hundred thousand residents to other states, according to new U.S. Census data. Should outmigration continue, California could lose more than the five, already projected, congressional seats it’s expected to shed after the 2030 census.

During the COVID-19 pandemic and switch to remote work, California lost population for the first time in its existence as a state, leading to the loss of a single congressional seat in 2021 during the nation’s reapportionment of census-based distribution of the nation’s 435 congressional representatives. With a smaller congressional delegation, the state would have less power to shape federal spending.

While California Governor Gavin Newsom has not addressed the new numbers directly, when challenged by Fox News host Sean Hannity on California’s population decline in a June 2023 interview, he said, “.3% [population loss] during COVID. My gosh.”

Just before the interview, Newsom’s Department of Finance estimated the state’s population had declined by 138,443 during 2022, making for a .36% population loss in a single year. Also using Department of Finance Data, the Public Policy Institute of California estimated a decline of 211,000 residents in 2022. Meanwhile, the latest Census data cited above, once accounting for a sharp rebound in immigration and decrease in deaths that offset the increase in outward immigration, estimates a population decrease of 113,000 for 2022. While the reason for the differences is not clear — the finance department notes that the discrepancy between its numbers and the Census reporting is due to different time frames being measured — the general trend of data demonstrating the state’s general population decline is consistent.

According to PPIC polling, 45% of Californians are considering leaving the state due to the high cost of housing. Will Swaim, founder of the California Policy Center, acknowledges that housing is a major factor but that other costs, the lack of opportunity, and even the poor state of public education are leaving many Californians, especially parents, looking to move elsewhere.

“There’s no question that housing costs are huge, but that really ignores the myriad other ways that California has simply destroyed business opportunity, especially for the working class,” said Swaim to The Center Square. “It is a very expensive state to live in and the poorer you are the more that housing cost number hurts. But how about gasoline? Every week people are putting almost double what our fellow Americans in other states are putting in their cars.”

Those leaving the state are disproportionately younger and lower income. For many families, buying property and raising children in the state is no longer a viable option.

“We are losing younger folks, and I think we will see people continuing to migrate where housing costs are lower,” Manuel Pastor, a professor of sociology and American Studies & Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, said in an interview with the Associated Press. “There are good jobs in California, but housing is incredibly expensive. It hurts young families, and it hurts immigrant families.”

Swaim, who raised his children in California, noted that his now-adult children are left looking elsewhere for alternatives. Sharing his children’s thoughts, he said, “We don’t want our children to be educated in California's public schools, but we want them to be educated in private schools that we can’t afford.”

The majority of students in California public schools do not meet the state’s moderate standards for math, science, and English. When combining all sources of funding, California public schools spend approximately $27,000 per student. The Education Data Initiative estimates the average K-12 private school tuition in California is $16,337.

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