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California Is Seen in Rearview Mirror

Times Staff Writer

Although the state’s population continues to grow because of immigration, more people left California in the last half of the 1990s than moved in from other states, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released today.

More than 1.4 million people in the U.S. migrated to California from 1995 to 2000, while 2.2 million left -- the highest migration numbers in the country. That exodus is “unprecedented,” said Hans P. Johnson, a demographer with the Public Policy Institute of California, an independent San Francisco research organization.

It was the first time since 1940, when the government started keeping statistics on domestic migration, that the state had lost more residents to other states than it gained, the Census Bureau said, although its overall population increased from 32.7 million in 1998 to an estimated 35.1 million in 2002.

In the mid-1990s, demographers had anticipated that the exodus of Californians in the early 1990s -- due in large part to recession, riots and natural disasters -- would slow, or even halt. But that was not the case, according to these new statistics, the most definitive available.

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The largest numbers of people who left California moved to Nevada, Arizona and Texas -- about 200,000 to each state. Nevada and Arizona are the two fastest-growing states in the nation, the report said, followed by Georgia, North Carolina and Florida. Large numbers of people also left California for Washington and Oregon.

“Other Western states ... are becoming the California of the past, attracting domestic migrants, many of them from California,” Johnson said. “The big picture is that California, by anyone’s measure, is not attracting the numbers of domestic migrants that [it] used to attract. This is a dramatic change from a demographic perspective.”

A June report from the California Department of Finance that used annual U.S. Census survey figures from March 2002 notes that “a greater number of persons annually leave California for other states than enter California from another state.... [T]he outward migration trend ... has been consistent.”

There are a number of possibilities why Californians have headed elsewhere, including housing costs, economic factors and relocation of retirees, said U.S. Census demographer Jason Schachter.

Domestic migrants who left California in the late 1990s were more likely to be unemployed, less educated or living in poverty than those moving into the state, according to a report in 2000 by the Public Policy Institute of California.

“The No. 1 reason people move to and from California is because of jobs,” said Johnson, who wrote that report.

The link between migration and the health of the state’s economy was evident in regional growth patterns.

“In the early 1990s, the movement was concentrated out of Los Angeles,” Johnson said. “Now, with the dot-com bust, a lot of the movement is out of the Bay Area, Northern California.”

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The state’s continued high cost of living also chased Californians to more-affordable states, Johnson said.

One of them is Debbie McCandless, 47, who packed up her Arcadia home and moved to Nevada to raise her 4-year-old daughter closer to other family members. She found an affordable house in one of Las Vegas’ newer suburbs, southwest of the city and 10 miles from the nearest grocery store.

“It definitely is slower-paced here; there’s not as much traffic,” she said. “There just aren’t as many people. I really prefer that lifestyle.”

Now a substitute teacher in the Clark County schools, McCandless found fewer white-collar jobs available in Las Vegas than in Southern California, where she worked in information technology for Arco.

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But she is reaping the benefits of cheaper housing costs, having upgraded from a $355,000, two-bedroom townhouse in Arcadia to a $223,000, four-bedroom house in Las Vegas.

“Here,” she said, “you can get a lot more ... for your dollar.”

And there are thousands more like her. “Everybody I meet has been here less than three years,” McCandless said, calling the trend a “mass exodus.”

From 1995 to 2000, 22 million people moved from one state to another, more than half of those relocating to a different region, said census demographer Rachel Franklin.

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In another report being released today, the Census Bureau spotted national trends of people leaving the Northeast and the Midwest for the West and the South.

The south Atlantic region, which stretches from Delaware to Florida, experienced the most growth. The West, from Colorado to Alaska, underwent almost zero net growth, with about the same number of people coming and going from the region.

Growth in the West was lopsided, however; the Mountain states -- Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Nevada -- gained a net 724,000 people, and the Pacific states along the coast, including Alaska and Hawaii, lost nearly the same number.

This pattern is “not a surprise,” said census demographer Marc Perry. “California is a very populous state and it’s nearby [to its expanding neighbors], which are two of the features of migration,” he said.

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California lost a total of about 755,000 residents, the second-biggest drop in the country. New York had the nation’s largest net migration to other states: 874,000 people.

California, the nation’s most populous state, contributed to migration gains in most states; all but nine states and the District of Columbia welcomed more than 10,000 Californians in the late 1990s.

The bureau gathered data for the reports from questions on the census long form, which went to 1 in 6 individuals -- about 50 million people. They were asked whether they had lived at the same address five years previously; those who responded “no” were asked from where they had moved. “That’s as good a sample size as you’re going to get,” Schachter said.

The Census Bureau has not released data tracking immigrant migration patterns. But a 2001 report by the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank, found that California’s foreign-born population began to stabilize for the first time in more than 100 years, dropping from 35% in 1995 to 30% over the next five years.

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From 1995 to 1999, the number of immigrants in the state remained static, at about 8 million, according to the report. The shift indicates fewer immigrants choosing California as a destination and more foreign-born residents of the state moving to “nontraditional” states for immigrants, such as North Carolina and Kansas.

This change in California can be attributed to a combination of more-inviting economies in other states and congestion in California, said Michael Fix, the director of immigration studies at the Urban Institute. “Some of the job niches filled up, the housing filled up, the roads and the schools filled up” in California, Fix said.

Immigrants moving elsewhere constitute “the successful pursuit of higher wages,” he said. Fix also noted the establishment of new cultural networks for immigrants in states such as Iowa and Arkansas, where they did not previously exist.


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