By Michelle Lin
LOS ANGELES — The existence of a “Californian Exodus” was debated before the pandemic, but COVID-19 has exacerbated the issues that cause people to leave. College student’s choices to stay or leave California before entering the workforce should not be seen as solely negative or positive. Rather, it is more constructive to view their decisions as revealing in terms of the issues California should remedy.
The high cost of rent and subsequently, higher costs of living, are the most significant reasons for citizens leaving cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles. UCLA and UC Berkeley are both located in regions that are difficult for students and newly-graduated students to afford in the long term.
Saddled with student loan debt, the pressures of high rent, and lower quality of life, it is likely that new college graduates will leave for more affordable housing. In a 2021 survey by the University of California, the demographic between ages 25 and 29 is likely to move, while middle-aged citizens are likely to stay.
Young people moving around does not necessarily mean a decrease in population, as other young people move to California. The University of California survey also found that many tended to move outside of cities like San Francisco or Los Angeles, and remain in the state of California. However, by relocating outside the city and into less expensive neighborhoods, it creates new gentrification issues.
Economic and career opportunities draw people to California. While the allure of California still exists for new graduates and college hopefuls, the pandemic has also offered a new way to work and live. Remote options have made living in the city one works in unnecessary.
Yet according to the University of California, graduates end up living and working in California, citing that over 70 percent of UC graduates remain in California, and make up a significant part of the state’s medical, educational and technological industries. The exodus does not mean a lack of opportunities in the state, but that people are being paid less while housing costs go up.
Despite the economic opportunities, the remote nature of the pandemic allowed many to see the importance of the quality of their lives. While cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco have enormous cultural, economic, and political capital, ordinary people need to have their basic needs adequately met.
Not only people, but companies such as Tesla and Oracle have moved out of California. Major companies leaving Silicon Valley will, in turn, cause more employees to follow. Companies realize that being located in California is not necessary to succeed.
College students face housing issues and poor access to affordable resources, along with the high cost of tuition. Thus, the trend of leaving California might influence them. College students might wonder if it makes more sense to prioritize their mental health over the stresses of making it in a big city like Los Angeles or San Francisco, and take up work outside of major cities. However, others might prefer the accessibility and availability of employment, despite the housing uncertainty.
The UC survey finds that there is no strong feeling of dissatisfaction with the declining population. A majority would prefer the population to remain the same, while few would prefer growth. In addition, people are optimistic and believe in the “California Dream.”
The lukewarm reactions to people leaving the state means that Californians have accepted outrageously high housing prices as the norm. California’s extreme housing situation is at its tipping point, where some people have had enough and want to leave. Others have accepted it and continue to pay the price.
The question is whether housing can be guaranteed for all people in California’s urban cities, or do the significant benefits and opportunities that are offered California’s cities come at a cost to natives and locals? The exodus makes it clear that as a basic human right, the housing crisis should be taken more seriously in and by the country’s most economically prosperous communities. If the crisis isn’t addressed and remedied in a timely manner, California may face even more serious consequences that could affect its workforce and quality of life in the future.