Monday Morning Thoughts: Data Gives Us a Clear Picture of the Future of California


The right has attempted to paint a picture of California as a state where the affluent are leaving, and the ones left behind are poor and on public assistance.  But the right has not dug into the data very deeply.

An analysis based on 2017 US Census Data that was published in the LA Times this weekend paints a different – “far from dire” picture.  There are problems with affordability to be sure and that is driving “less-educated residents” to “move to neighboring states — and to Texas — in search of a lower cost of living.”

But the net flow of people shows that the people moving in are younger and better educated than the ones departing.

Here are the key findings for 2017:

  • More people left California (661,026) than arrived (523,131) from other U.S. states. But for the nation’s most populous state, with 39 million residents, that amounted to a tiny fraction in net departures: just 0.35%.
  • Among the 25-years-and-older set, the state lost a net 86,890 residents without bachelor’s degrees, and just 4,443 with a four-year degree. It gained 11,653 people with graduate degrees.
  • No state boasts more loudly of its attractions than Texas. Indeed, 63,174 people relocated from California to the nation’s second-most populous state, more than to anywhere else in the U.S. But it’s also true that no state sent more people here than the Lone Star State — 40,999.

“The cost of living, especially housing, is what stops the whole world from moving to California,” said USC demographer Dowell Myers, a longtime census expert. “Otherwise, who wouldn’t prefer California? We have superior weather. We have mountains and oceans. And we have better jobs — better paying and more specialized, whether in tech, entertainment, the arts or medicine.”

Mr. Myers explained that in the 1980s, millions came to California which created “an anti-growth backlash.”  But since 2004, “California has been losing people to other states.”  He said, “We lost people in the bubble because housing prices were so high. We lost them in the recession because our job market was worse than the rest of the country.”

Overall California is not losing population despite the net departures.  The number of babies born in California has dropped each year since 1990.  However, the number of births still exceeded death in 2017 by about 220,000 – meaning that there was a net increase in population.

Furthermore, “international newcomers rose by a net 185,000 last year despite a steep drop in Mexican immigrants, from about 150,000 a year in the mid-1990s through the mid-2000s to about 40,000 a year in 2016…”  According to the Pew Research Center, “That reflects an improved Mexican economy and a government birth control push.”

The biggest boom in immigration is coming from Asia – China, India and other Asians nations are seeing immigrants move here in far greater numbers.  “Between 2012 and 2016, 58% of new California immigrants came from Asia, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, while just 28% came from Latin America.”

Contrary to popular belief, “most of California’s newcomers from abroad are well educated. According to a study by the Public Policy Institute, 51% of working-age immigrants who had lived in California for five years or less as of 2016 had bachelor’s or graduate degrees, compared with 37% of all Californians.”

For college graduates, “California’s high-tech economy is a powerful draw.”

This is the key to why the critique of California is completely wrong, a report from the state legislative analyst’s office in February found that “although California has had net out-migration among most demographic groups, it has gained among those with higher incomes ($110,000 per year or more) and higher levels of education (graduate degrees).”

Mr. Meyers points out, “newcomers with bachelor’s and graduate degrees poured into California from other states, showing a net increase of about 76,000 over those leaving. At the same time, those with less than a four-year degree left in droves — a net loss of more than 400,000.”

There is of course both an upside and a downside to these numbers.  But the key here is that affordability is driving the outflow, affluence and good jobs are driving the inflow.

Mr. Myers warns that the imbalance is not entirely positive: “We need low-skill workers too — hospital orderlies, school bus drivers, nannies and gardeners.”

Moreover, the state’s high taxes and high rent have an impact on everyone.  The segment with high paying jobs is doing well, despite the huge cost of living increasing.  But the displacement of lower educated and lower income segments of society is the area that we need to focus on.

Finding affordable housing for those in the lower income segments of society is the key to creating stability in California.  But this picture painted does not show the dire picture some in political circles are attempting to paint – in fact, far from it.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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13 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts: Data Gives Us a Clear Picture of the Future of California”

  1. H Jackson

    Among the 25-years-and-older set, the state lost a net 86,890 residents without bachelor’s degrees, and just 4,443 with a four-year degree. It gained 11,653 people with graduate degrees.

    An interesting related trend is that K-12 public school students, as compiled in CAASPP test score data which comes out annually, shows that the overall family education level has been going up over recent years.  This makes for an interesting skeptical counter narrative about how CAASPP scores have modestly improved.  The suggestion is that somehow pedigogy has improved, but that trend (increasing parent education level) would suggest that overall family enrichment may explain it.  I find there often isn’t a lot of deep investigation done to these test score trends.

  2. Howard P

    There appears to be an “inherent bias” in the data…

    Ex.: degrees and licenses… what is a greater ‘brain drain’ or financial drain?  An MA in History, or a BS in Engineering who is a licensed Professional Engineer? A PhD in Art History or a AS who is a licensed Professional Land Surveyor?

    Degrees are important when measuring body temp, or deciding what to wear outside… not so much in the real world… I know PhD’s who have no clue… I know HS grads who do know, and contribute big time to society, and earn six-figure salaries, with benefits…

    Not sure how to correct for that, but I suspect that the “best and brightest” ignoring “degrees” are moving to, or staying in CA, unless they get an ‘offer they can’t refuse’… over the years of data, if you grew up in CA, then moved elsewhere, it is over 50% likely you will return to CA.  Unless you never had your ‘stuff’ together… in those cases you stay in places where you are a relative ‘star’…

    1. H Jackson

      There is a very strong correlation between CAASPP standardized test score performance and parent education level that calls into question for me whether the narrow focus on raising standardized test scores for all students in math and English is the best strategy to be following.

      In the last “great recession,” having college education seemed to protect more Americans from the worst of the recession.  If one didn’t have college education, then one’s risk for unemployment was higher, and one’s duration of unemployment was longer.  Related to this, one’s lifetime earning potential is strongly correlated to one’s education level.

      I agree with you that having college education isn’t the only thing that matters in life, but the correlation between education level and economic resilience is hard to ignore.

      1. Jim Hoch

        Even for trades that don’t require a college degree having strong basic math/English skills allows one to move from being a plumber to a plumbing contractor for example.

        1. H Jackson

          I don’t disagree that basic math/English skills are important, but our current education system makes it to be that math and English skills are all that matter, especially if you score low in either.  There is actually more to life and education than basic math & English skills.

  3. Jim Hoch

    Really depends on what it means to be “educated”. For me basic math skills and critical reading are the two most important. There are other skills as well but those two are foundational.

    If it were up to me I would add a course on “being an adult” which would include how to rent an apartment and complete various types of applications. Reading and understanding the fine print is a key skill.

    1. H Jackson

      “For me basic math skills and critical reading are the two most important. There are other skills as well but those two are foundational.”

      “No Child Left Behind” demonstrated that there are clear problems when those are the only two things schools focus on.

      1. Howard P

        Lean your direction, H Jackson, but am in full agreement with Jim Hoch, as to importance of math and reading…

        If one is weak in English reading and writing, they cannot critically appreciate History or Philosophy… is one is weak in Math, they cannot fully appreciate Music (which also includes reading scores)… if one isn’t learning a foreign language, they cannot fully understand English… if someone does not have basic language/writing skills, their ability to express themselves, share their visions, ideas with others is compromised.

        Knowing how to replace an electrical outlet, do plumbing repairs, plant/grow crops, requires math and language skills.  Being a successful adult, and a competent voter, requires an appreciation of math, language arts, fine arts, history, philosophy, etc., etc.

        Methinks you are both seeing part of the ‘elephant’… combined, I think you are getting close to what is needed.

        Then there are those who face individual challenges… Einstein couldn’t make change…

        If I catch your drift, H Jackson, we need to challenge every individual to grow as they can.

      2. Jim Hoch

        I did not say “only two things”.

        People can achieve great skill in various endeavors without being “educated”. Grandma Moses and Ekalavya come to mind. However without basic arithmetic and language ability they are not “educated”.

      3. H Jackson

        If we were to chat this out in person, I’m certain we would find that we probably are mostly in agreement.

        I take issue with the reductivist trend in public education to presume that schoools only need to work out that students succeed in math and English proficiencies and everything else will fall into place, and the school will have done its job.

        History, philosophy, music, science, and many other things provide very relevant and tangible context for learning math and English, and students will more often develop meaning and purpose in their lives outside of math and English.


        1. Howard P

          History, philosophy, music, science, and many other things provide very relevant and tangible context for learning math and English

          Agreed… and can you agree that it works both ways?

          Math and english led me to engineering, science, surveying… and led me to physical sciences, botany/biological sciences, environmental studies, history, foreign language, philosophy, practical arts, etc.

          Started with english (aka language arts) and math… did not end there… not sure if I’d gotten there without firm foundations in reading and math… which came from my HS graduate parents, long before I entered kindergarten… I was reading Winnie the Pooh (the real version, not ‘Golden Books’ version) before I entered kindergarten… my folks were avid readers, and knew math… neither went beyond HS… but, they were ‘educated’ and wanted that for me… they also knew life skills…


        2. H Jackson

          Howard P: “I was reading Winnie the Pooh (the real version, not ‘Golden Books’ version) before I entered kindergarten…”

          Props to you and your parents.

          My other related issue of the current policy of standardized testing of math and English is obligating students to perform at a certain level on a prescribed schedule.  Two of my kids performed at ‘below proficiency’ for several grades for reasons I won’t get into, but which might understandably rationalize their situation.

          But it was challenging to have to justify to some teachers and even to our kids that we didn’t see them as “behind” but following their own developmental schedule.  It helped to be able to provide art and music instruction to our kids to help them explore their skills and interests in other ways.  They eventually graduated from Davis schools and finished college and our following their careers.  Neither pursued art or music professionally, but it helped to diversify their skills, and I think ultimately helped them to “catch up.”

          I see providing more diverse curricula as “academic cross-training.”

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