College Graduates, Too, Are Fleeing California’s Big Cities

California is expensive — that’s no secret.

Nor is the fact that for years, lower-wage, less-educated workers have been leaving for more affordable states, like Texas, Nevada or Idaho. Those losses have usually been offset in part by net gains in college graduates who can more easily afford California’s high cost of living.

But a New York Times analysis of census data finds that working-age college graduates have also been moving out of our most expensive metropolitan regions, and have been since before the coronavirus pandemic began. Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose crossed a significant threshold in 2020 and 2021: More college-educated workers left than moved in.

“When California was already struggling with the loss of people due to migration, they were actually holding on to people with a college degree, but over time that situation started to change,” said my colleague Robert Gebeloff, who conducted the new analysis along with Emily Badger and Josh Katz. “When the pandemic came, it just accelerated everything — and the loss of college grads grew even more.”

The proliferation of remote work has allowed people to reconsider where they live, and to perhaps keep high-paying jobs based in places like the Bay Area without having to actually live there.

This trend extends beyond California. The analysis found that a growing number of college graduates were moving out of the nation’s 12 most expensive metropolitan areas, which include New York City, Chicago and Seattle. Affordability has eroded so much in these places, the analysis suggests, that some of the most educated, highly paid workers don’t want to stay.

The findings are especially relevant in California. Four of the 12 most expensive metropolitan areas are here. Robert told me that the team originally planned to investigate what migration looked like in costly American cities without focusing on any one state, but that “it just happens to be that a lot of them are in California.”

Their findings align with my recent reporting that California’s population declined in 2022, for the third year in a row. One reason cited by demographers was a net exodus of high-income and highly educated Californians to other states.

People fleeing these pricey big cities often move to other large cities that are a bit more affordable, like Phoenix, Denver and Austin, as well as Sacramento and Riverside. Many of these cities have recently developed some of the amenities you would associate with a place the size of New York or Los Angeles, like diverse restaurant scenes and revitalized downtowns.

“Some of it is that the most expensive places got really expensive,” Rebecca Diamond, a Stanford University economist, said of shifting migration patterns. “But also, the middle-tier places became more attractive.”

Jim Dalrymple II left Los Angeles when the smallest, cheapest house that he and his wife could find in the city was no longer big enough to fit children. They moved in 2019 to a much larger home within walking distance of downtown Salt Lake City.

“I love L.A., I thought we would stay there indefinitely — I miss it still,” Dalrymple, 41, a writer, said. He recalled the abundant jobs and affordable housing that had once attracted his grandparents, who were schoolteachers, to Southern California.

“I would love to take advantage of all that myself,” he said. “It’s not available to us. And it’s not available to a lot of people.”

Today’s tip comes from Mike McNiff, who lives in Costa Mesa:

The Wedge in Newport Beach is a world-renowned body surfing beach next to the entrance to Newport Harbor. Whenever a big swell hits, TV news crews and large crowds gather on the shore to watch brave — and some may say insane — watermen challenge the beach break, generating ‘ooohs’ and ‘ahhhs’ aplenty. It’s also the starting point of a great walk up the sand on the Balboa Peninsula as far you’d like to go, with spectacular views of Catalina and the Pacific. Even on days with no surf, it’s a great place to just sit and enjoy a good book or take in the natural beauty while watching boats come and go in the harbor.”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

My colleague Jill Cowan reported on the enduring fame of P-22, a mountain lion that became an icon for Angelenos.

While there have been plenty of famous domesticated animals, we want to hear about any wild animals that became celebrities to you. Did you have a bird, bear or deer in your community that you got attached to? Tell us about it and why you became a fan. Email us at [email protected] with your suggestions.

The Bay Area is entering a golden age of tacos, with a serious effort underway to represent various taco styles, The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

“For many taqueros, the pandemic was an accelerant for opportunity, creating a renewed energy around tacos. The movement is a combination of nostalgia and necessity: folks seeking tastes of home, preserving tradition and searching for a way to make an extra buck.”

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

You can reach the California Today team at [email protected].

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