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Data keeps piling up: No ‘mass exodus’ from California during pandemic

San Francisco Chronicle logo San Francisco Chronicle 3/5/2021 By Susie Neilson
text, letter: New research by the California Policy Lab shows that most Californians who moved in 2020 moved to other regions within the state. © Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

New research by the California Policy Lab shows that most Californians who moved in 2020 moved to other regions within the state.

Adding to the evidence suggesting that the much-discussed “California exodus” during the pandemic is mostly hype, new research by the California Policy Lab shows that most Californians who moved in 2020 moved to other regions within the state.

The nonpartisan think tank examined a data set from the University of California Consumer Credit Panel that contained residential locations for all California residents with credit history. The data set was able to track how many state residents moved from one place to another each financial quarter.

Overall, the data showed that the share of California movers leaving the state did not measurably increase in 2020, though that share has increased slightly since 2015, from 16% to about 18%. And in the fourth quarter of 2020, the state saw a decrease in the number of people moving in, which led to a larger net loss of people than normal.

“While a mass exodus from California clearly didn’t happen in 2020, the pandemic did change some historical patterns, for example, fewer people moved into the state to replace those who left,” Natalie Holmes, a Research Fellow at the California Policy Lab, said in a press release about the study.

The data supports a recent Chronicle analysis of U.S. Postal Service change of address data showing that a majority of Bay Area residents who moved in March-November 2020 went to other places in the Bay Area or elsewhere in California.


Video: Study: There Was No 'Mass Exodus' From California In 2020 (CBS Sacramento)

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The data did contain a few notable trends for certain counties, however. San Francisco in particular experienced a large increase in net exits — defined as the total number of entrances into the county minus the total number of exits. The city’s net exits increased by 649% from the start of April through the end of 2020 as compared to the same period in 2019, from 5,200 net exits to 38,800. In the fourth quarter of the year, net exits from San Francisco increased by almost 920% from the fourth quarter of 2019.

But of the people who left San Francisco, approximately two-thirds stayed in the Bay Area economic region, and 80% stayed in the Golden State.

Perhaps surprisingly, Sacramento County, along with Kings County to the south, saw a dramatic increase in net exit rate in the fourth quarter compared to 2019, according to the data. Other data sets including from UHaul and apartment listings website Zumper have pointed to Sacramento as a hot destination for Bay Area movers during the pandemic.

The study also found “no evidence” that wealthy households were fleeing California for relative tax havens like Texas and Florida. Movement patterns for wealthy areas were similar to those in less wealthy areas, according to the report.

And some Northern California counties, like Nevada and Amador, saw huge influxes in arrivals, particularly from former Bay Area residents. Some Northern California counties saw twice as many people move in compared with 2019.

Susie Neilson is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: susan.neilson@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @susieneilson

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