In the ‘80s, a punk rock band, The Clash, had a catchy little hit entitled, “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” As Californians start a new decade, many are asking themselves the same thing.
For a few, the decision to leave is easy because of better job opportunities or the desire to escape California’s high cost of living. But for many, it is a difficult choice. Older Californians often stay because this is where their children and grandchildren are. But recent college graduates who would prefer to stay in California for the lifestyle and recreation are nonetheless compelled to move because of ridiculously high housing costs.
While California has the highest level of net domestic out-migration in the nation, totaling well over one million people in less than eight years, the decision to leave the Golden State remains personal and no one factor will be determinative for most people.
Hard decisions compel people to weigh the pros and cons of bailing out. But here are some of the considerations:
Employment: California has very low unemployment but still much higher than most other states. More troubling is the fact that we rank near the bottom in job creation as a percentage of population. Because few jobs are being created, workers must seek opportunities elsewhere.
Cost of living: It is a given that California’s cost of living is higher than virtually all other states in the union. But it’s even worse for retirees on a fixed income. According to Investopedia, California ranks 48th in retiree living costs.
Housing: Volumes have already been written about California’s housing crisis. Suffice it to say that the progressive policies being pursued to address the problem are only making it worse as housing demands continue to out-strip new housing stock.
Taxes: This is a major driver forcing Californians to flee. Our state has the highest-in-the-nation income tax rate, state sales tax rate, and gas taxes, plus higher-than-average property taxes despite being held in check by California’s iconic Proposition 13.
Quality of life: This is no longer the California of the 60’s, 70’s or even 80’s. The positives that attracted people here in the first place are now more than offset by rampant homelessness, traffic gridlock and increasing levels of crime. What’s worse is that the political response to these problems has been one of disregard or counterproductive reactions. For example, the progressive response to our transportation crisis has been to commit billions to a failed high speed rail system rather than to expand our road and highway system, something that Californians actually use.
Those who have left California represent a cross-section of our population: High-wealth individuals including professional athletes seeking to escape a 13.3 percent marginal income tax rate, college educated youth pursuing affordable housing, skilled blue collar workers who can’t afford rent in California moving to Texas where they can buy a home, and business owners large and small who are fed up with overregulation.
It’s a stain on this state that so many productive Californians are calling it quits. Given our size, natural beauty, quality universities and great weather, people should be flocking here as this author did in 1982. But it appears that our elected representatives are doing everything possible to chase away even those who still cling to the California dream of the past.
The irony here is that this demographic trend will likely result in California losing a congressional seat while red states like Texas and Florida gain representatives. So will California lose political influence as well as citizens? That would be poetic justice.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (hjta.org).