With a downtrodden economy tarnishing California’s once-golden lure, fewer people are moving here from other states and more Californians are moving out than ever before, state officials said Wednesday.
The result, according to a Department of Finance analysis of drivers’ license records: Net migration out of California reached 100,000 drivers in the fiscal year that ended June 30, by far the largest exodus since the state started keeping track in 1970.
Two out of every three Californians have driver’s licenses. So if the movement of drivers mirrors that of the population at large, about 580,000 people left the state and California experienced a net loss of 150,000 people to other states.
Orange County, once touted as Southern California’s gold coast, lost 38,253 people to other states in the 1992-1993 fiscal year--four times more than in the previous 12 months.
“It’s a dramatic reversal for Orange County,” said UC Irvine social ecology Professor Mark Baldassare. “Nobody five years ago imagined this. . . . We were preparing for a decade of rapid growth.”
Because of the state’s birth rate and the migration of foreign immigrants, California’s overall population continues to grow, but at a much slower pace. And, one population expert said, more young people are moving into the state than are leaving, a sign that portends well for the future.
The trend struck every county in the state but one--San Francisco--and was most profound in the Southland, where six counties with a combined 57% of the state’s population accounted for three-quarters of its net departures.
“This is certainly consistent with an economy that’s lagging,” said Stephen Levy, director of the Palo Alto-based Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy. “Why would anyone move here in the past year with the unemployment rate around 10%?”
The state’s figures showed that California lost population, or at least licensed drivers, to other states for the second consecutive year after 16 straight years of gains.
About 389,000 drivers left the state, the Finance Department said, up 9.5% from the year before. About 289,000 drivers moved to California, down 16% from the previous 12 months.
The net exodus of 100,000 drivers was the highest since 1971-72, when 31,000 more drivers packed up their cars and headed for the state’s borders than moved here.
The past year’s departures were particularly pronounced in Southern California, where the economy is hard hit by reductions in federal military spending. In Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura and San Diego counties, about 230,000 drivers moved to other states, and about 157,000 drivers arrived from elsewhere in the United States.
California drivers moved to greener pastures throughout the nation, but the most popular destinations were relatively nearby: Nevada, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Arizona and Idaho.
The most popular destination for outbound Orange Countians, in order: Arizona, followed by Washington, Colorado, Nevada, Texas and Oregon.
Baldassare attributed the exodus from Orange County to work-force cutbacks among defense contractors, concerns about illegal immigration, crime, education and the quality of life.
With statistics showing that the largest numbers of people fleeing the county are in the middle to upper age brackets, Baldassare said: “For older residents who have been here a long time, they’re sitting on home equities that grew during the 1980s, and now they may be worried that they’re going to lose that equity if they don’t get out now, due to the decline in the economy and the housing market.”
But the bottom line, he said, is that “other states are adding jobs, and we’re not.”
The drivers license figures are not considered a foolproof way to track the state’s migration because not all residents drive, and drivers who move may or may not reflect the population at large. But state officials and private economists believe that the records are a reliable measure of the broad shifts in migration patterns.
The statistics merely point up what moving companies and real estate agents have been witnessing firsthand.
“We move two or three families out of state each week,” said Julie Hayes of Chipman Moving and Storage in Buena Park, an agent for United Van Lines. “It really started last year. It was so bad that this year we have restrictions on the number of interstate moves we can do, to avoid having too many trucks dead-heading back to California without any cargo.”
To ration service, Hayes said, her company is not offering the usual discounts this year. “There’s not enough equipment available to meet the demand.”
Real estate agent Heather Raphael said she has seen the exodus for more than a year. “We’re not selling high-end homes as well as we have in the past. It’s too difficult for people to move up to those homes. Some of the people who would normally move up are the ones who are leaving.”
Despite the net movement to other states, California’s population continues to climb. The state population grew by 570,000 people to 31.5 million in 1992; all of that growth was the result of births and foreign immigration.
The Wilson Administration, which released the figures, speculated that the outflow reflected the movement of people in search of jobs and said the numbers were one more indication of the need to make it easier for companies to do business in California.
Finance Department spokesman H. D. Palmer said California needs “economic triage--stop the hemorrhage outward, stabilize the situation and get on the road to recovery.”
At least one population analyst, however, saw a silver lining in the news, suggesting that the figures show economic equilibrium at work. In effect, said RAND Corp. demographer Peter Morrison, the patient is healing itself.
Morrison noted that people between 18 and 29 are still moving to California in greater numbers than they are leaving.
“That’s a good development,” Morrison said. “It means that while we are accommodating to fewer jobs and trying to digest the unemployment we have, we are not doing so at the expense of our future. In a sense, we’re getting a population rejuvenating itself by continuing to draw an influx of young people even as the state is shedding an excess number of middle-aged workers.”
Morrison said that fact makes California’s experience different from other regions that have suffered emigration. In the farm belt of the Midwest, for instance, young people unsatisfied with their opportunities in agriculture have been moving out, leaving an older and more dependent population behind, he said.
“There really is a generational change occurring,” Morrison said. “How does it feel as an individual, or a part of California, say L.A. County? It’s awful. Dreadful. But if you look at in terms of where the process is leading, it’s leading toward an eventual renewal of California’s economy in the 21st Century.”
Times staff writer Jeffrey A. Perlman contributed to this story.
Nearly 40,000 Orange County residents moved out of state between July 1, 1992, and June 30, 1993. These are some of the more popular states where former county residents now make their home. Moved to: People Arizona: 3,715 Washington: 3,110 Colorado: 2,983 Nevada: 2,878 Texas: 2,774 Oregon: 2,446 Florida: 1,888 Utah: 1,283 New York: 1,115 Hawaii: 936 Virginia: 850 Idaho: 808 Source: California Department of Finance