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California Drivers Still Hitting Road Right Out of State : Exodus: DMV finds that more licensed residents moved out than in for third straight year. Of the 400,000 who left last year, 40,000 were from O.C.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Adding to the evidence that the Golden State has been losing its allure, the Department of Motor Vehicles has reported for the third consecutive year that more licensed drivers moved out of California than moved in.

A record total of 400,008 joined an exodus to other states last year, according to DMV statistics released this week. More than 40,000 of them left Orange County.

Statewide, that’s 126,105 more drivers reporting that they have left the state than the number of arrivals from elsewhere in the country. In Orange County, 13,391 more left for other states than arrived from outside California.

Experts in population studies say the new numbers probably reflect California’s continuing economic woes as the state’s recovery from recession lags behind the rest of the nation.

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The movement of licensed drivers, these experts say, provides the most up-to-date measure of the relative attractiveness of the state--an undecipherable mix that includes business conditions and lingering concerns about California’s plague of earthquakes, fires, and urban riots.

The state Department of Finance has calculated that on the average, every two drivers who leave the state take another person with them. That means that more than 600,000 people statewide and about 60,000 in Orange County have moved to other parts of the country in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

However, because of foreign immigration and a relatively high birthrate, California’s population continues to grow faster than the rest of the country--even after migration to and from other states is taken into account.

The driver’s license data compiled by the DMV is a symptom of business conditions, said Stephen Levy, director of the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto.

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“The driver’s license data is a lagging indicator. It tells you where the economy has been,” Levy said. “People take awhile--six months, a year, or two--to make plans for a long-term move.”

Levy and other economists believe that California’s economy is slowly moving to recovery--an improvement that will not show up for several months in the driver’s license statistics.

The latest DMV figures continue to show a net emigration of older Californians, particularly those 45 and older. At the same time, there has been a continuing net increase in younger drivers moving in.

Peter Morrison, a demographer at RAND in Santa Monica, sees the influx of younger people as a hopeful sign.

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“These relatively young adults are moving here by choice and not chance,” Morrison said. “They’re more motivated and more educated than average.”

At the same time, many older Californians are moving elsewhere. The dual movement, young adults moving in and older ones moving out, is like the circulatory system, Morrison said. “If one thing is clear here, it’s that California’s population is circulating at a somewhat higher rate,” he said. The new blood leaves California poised for a strong, long-term recovery, Morrison said.

Of those drivers who moved out of California last year, the largest number moved to western states: 37,947 to Nevada; 33,432 to Washington; 30,512 to Oregon; 29,656 to Arizona, and 28,546 to Colorado.

Those moving out of Orange County mirrored the state trend, flocking mostly to those same western states: 3,768 to Nevada; 3,430 to Arizona; 3,341 to Colorado; 2,939 to Washington and 2,244 to Oregon.

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Many of those moving into the state came from across the country, including 23,379 from Texas; 17,051 from New York; 14,167 from Florida, and 13,247 from Illinois. But a sizable number also came to California from the states of Washington, 16,815; Arizona, 17,274; Oregon, 12,081, and Nevada, 11,296.

Orange County saw 2,344 arrive from Texas; 1,655 from Arizona; 1,392 from Illinois; 1,385 from Washington; 1,334 from Florida and 1,262 from New York.

Times staff writer Eric Bailey contributed to this story.


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