The state’s population exodus was second only to New York, which lost 15,000 more people. The sky-high cost of housing was the residents’ primary reason for departure.

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During the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 500,000 Californians fed up with the high cost of housing left the state, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, the second-greatest population exodus only to New York, which lost 15,000 more people.

The number of residents who left the state exceeded those entering by almost 700,000 between April 2020 and July 2022, according to population experts to which the Los Angeles Times spoke.

The state’s sky-high cost of housing was residents’ primary reason for departure, but long commutes and crowds, crime and pollution in larger cities were also factors, as well as working remotely without having to worry about congested commutes into city centers.

Just during the one-year period from July 2021 to July 2022, 211,000 people left California, according to the U.S. Department of Finance. More than half of those residents were from Los Angeles County. In total, the number of people who left the state dropped by 0.54 percent to 39 million.

Between July 2020 and July 2021, L.A. County lost 159,621 people (1.6 percent of the population) from domestic migration, while San Francisco County lost 54,814 people, a loss of 6.3 percent, and the greatest county population drop in the state.

Net migration out of the state exceeded that of New York by 43,000 people from April 2020 to July 2022. However, California gained more people by way of natural change or the difference between the number of births and deaths in the state than New York, gaining 157,000 people naturally, which made its overall population loss less than that of New York.

Many of those individuals who left were “people seeking safe refuge during the pandemic” with their family or friends, which led many to “get out of the central cities,” Dowell Myers, who holds a doctorate in Urban Planning and is a professor of policy, planning and demography at USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy, told the L.A Times.

As the peak of the pandemic has started to fade, the state’s young people continue to leave, Myers added, largely because of those high housing prices.

California “still attracts them, it just can’t hold them as well,” Myers said, noting that once young people who come into the state as renters start thinking about homeownership, they typically leave for a state with a lower cost of housing.

“People who are leaving are much more likely to be homeowners after they leave,” Myers added.

Today’s softening housing prices coupled with increased immigration and more births should bump up the population, Myers said,  noting that “the clock is ticking on millennials,” who have put off having children because of high housing and cost of living expenses.

In January 2023, the median home price in California was $751,330, down 3 percent from the previous month and down 1.9 percent year over year, according to the California Association of Realtors. Year-to-date home sales across the state were down 45.7 percent. Job layoffs across the tech sector in recent months were a significant contributing factor to the softening market, C.A.R. noted.

“Job layoffs in recent months, primarily in the tech sector, have contributed to a decline in both sales and prices in higher-priced housing markets, particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area,” C.A.R. Vice President and Chief Economist Jordan Levine said in a statement. “With home prices expected to remain soft and the mix of sales continuing to shift toward less expensive housing units throughout the rest of 2023, the market will see more downward price adjustments in the next few months.”

Meanwhile, as California’s population has shrunk, some of the country’s most populous states have increased their populations even more over the last few years. From April 2020 to July 2022, Texas gained 884,000 residents and Florida gained 707,000 residents, showing the greatest statewide population growth in the U.S. during that period.

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Email Lillian Dickerson

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