While Survey Shows Californians Would Prefer Life Elsewhere, Media Report California Doing Just Fine

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Virtually every major California media source reported last week that a new UC San Diego study concludes that there is no California exodus, and that most Californians are happy and believe the “California Dream” remains in reach for them and their children.  

“Despite the popular notion of unhappy Californians leaving the state en masse, our robust research shows there is actually no exodus,” said Thad Kousser, chair of the political science department at UCSD and the lead researcher of the most recent survey. “Most residents say that they still believe in the ‘California Dream.’”

Good news, yes?

Well, no. Not at all. Look into the survey a bit deeper and you will see about as large a disconnect as one can imagine between the publicized answers and how survey respondents compared California to other states on a number of detailed quality-of-life questions.

When asked about out-of-state job prospects, cost of living, housing, overall quality of life, taxes, schools, and the quality of government services, the majority answered that every one of these categories would be better outside of California. Every single one.

This includes roughly 2/3 believing their overall quality of life would be better out of California, 62 percent believing schools and government would be better, and 85 percent believing housing costs and other living costs would be better outside of California.

These detailed answers dovetail with the statistics and facts about California’s cost of living, housing, school quality, quality of governance, and job opportunities.

California’s cost of living exceeds the national average by 50 percent, largely reflecting housing costs that have skyrocketed in the last decade, with the median-priced California home at about $720,000 and the median-priced condominium at about $535,000. Affordability? That median-priced home requires a household income of over $130,000, not to mention a down payment of about $150,000. The median-priced condo requires a household income of nearly $100,0o00 and a down payment of about $110,000.

You may be thinking that professional couples should be able to hop this hurdle, but keep in mind that doctors leave medical school with about $250,000 in debt, which means that our hypothetical, young two-physician household that moves to California has about $500,000 in debt right off the bat, which means spending about $50,000 per year to pay those loans off over 15 years. 

Job opportunities? Talk to those who live in the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley, home to the highest-paying jobs in the state, and where only around 20 percent of those high earners can afford the median-priced home. California’s median household income is about $75,000, compared to national average of about $66,000, a difference that doesn’t come close to offsetting California’s higher cost of living. Just how far does your housing dollar go in Silicon Valley? Well, if your budget is around $2 million, meaning that you have a down payment of $400,000 and your household income is nearly $400,000 annually, then you get less than 1200 square feet in Mountain View, home of Google. 

Hard to believe? Yes. How about if your budget is $3 million, which means an annual income of around $600,000? Here is a 2,400-square-foot home, with just two bathrooms, at $3 million. A brand-spanking-new high-end 2,400-square-foot-home with four bedrooms and four baths will set you back just $650,000 in the rapidly growing tech city of Nashville.

Now, Nashville’s climate is rough about four months out of the year, but you will have plenty of cash left over for a second home in the summer months. And in the other months, there is an outstanding music scene to enjoy, along with excellent restaurants, museums, you name it.

How about school quality in California? Well, California, along with Oregon and Seattle, Washington, is ground zero for the inclusion of critical race theory in K–12 schools, where convicted police murderers are portrayed as martyrs and Martin Luther King is nowhere to be seen.

California school quality is 38th in the country, far lower than in states that have similar high tax burdens in the Northeast, including New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. 

Speaking of taxes, California has the 10th highest overall tax burden, and the fourth highest individual income tax burden.  

You want to enjoy the benefits of California’s mild climate with a beautiful garden? Well, about 35 percent of the time, California is mired in drought, along with water rationing. You will be inundated with advertisements from Sacramento to convert your lawn and rose garden into one of cacti and rocks.

I am afraid that what this survey reveals is a remarkable case of cognitive dissonance on the part of the respondents, in which they very well understand California’s myriad problems but stay here anyway.

It goes something like this. You live in California. Maybe you are here because of family reasons, or you highly value the weather and the natural beauty, or you don’t want to leave your friends. So you leave reality for a moment and rationalize your decision to stay by believing that the “California Dream” is achievable for you and your children. And you continue to dream the dream.

But facts are stubborn things, even for dreamers. And while it is true that people are not leaving California in droves—at least not yet—California has lost many major businesses. It lost Bank of America’s headquarters to North Carolina and many businesses to Texas, including large chunks of Tesla, Oracle, and Hewlett-Packard, the latter of which is one of the oldest and best-known tech firms in Silicon Valley. Et tu, HP? And there are many, many others that have left.

So the next time someone tells you that California is doing just fine, thank you, please share these facts with them. By the way, did I mention that nearly 40 percent of Californians are living in poverty or near poverty, per the US Census’s definition? And that there are nearly 14 million Californians on Medicaid, the health plan for the poor, who would by themselves form the fifth largest state in the country? Or that more than 25 percent of the country’s homeless are in California? Or that there are more drug addicts in San Francisco than high school students? Or that crime has increased so much that both LA’s and San Francisco’s DAs are facing recalls?

Plenty of facts to quote to friends and family who are dreamers. And please ask them why they keep voting in the same type of politicians in every voting cycle, and what it will take for them to stop dreaming and face the ugly realities of what California has become. Facts are indeed stubborn things.