California continues to stink at attracting new residents

California continues to stink at attracting new residents

For the ninth consecutive year, fewer moving vans brought Americans to California than those headed out toward other states.

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The trusty spreadsheet reviewed my curious collection of annual migration data from three moving van lines – Allied, Atlas, and United – over the last 20 years. Let’s remember that this type of relocation is rare and expensive. Yet swings in usage can be seen as one measure of where folks with good-sized checkbooks or generous employers are moving.

When the interstate moves reported by the three van lines are averaged together, the California picture isn’t pretty: The state continues to stink at attracting new residents.

Last year, just 43.8% of California van moves were inbound. That’s the third-worst year of the last 20. It’s also down from 44.3% in 2022 and an average of 48.7% in pre-pandemic 2004-2019.

Yes, it’s still above the 40.5% bottom of mid-pandemic 2021. But it ain’t the 52.5% high of 2012 either. Do not forget that every year between 2008 and 2014, California had more ins than outs via van lines.


The 2023 van line patterns suggest the recent meek improvement in California’s broader outmigration challenges could be over.

California demographers say the state had 260,400 more people exiting than arriving from elsewhere in the US in the year ending in July 2023. That was down from 295,600 the previous year and 361,270 in 2021.

California van moves (Graphic by Flourish) 

A peek at more-detailed Census Bureau stats gives a big clue as to what’s behind California outmigration.

California’s 2022 population departures equaled 2.1% of state residents – the ninth-best retention nationally.

But new arrivals from other states were only 1.2% of the population – the lowest attraction rate among the states.

Nationally speaking

California’s 2023 inbound share of van moves ranked sixth-lowest among the 48 contiguous states – excluding Alaska and Hawaii – and the District of Columbia.

Who was worse? Illinois at 37.2%, New Jersey at 41.7%, Pennsylvania at 42%, Louisiana at 42.1% and Michigan at 43.5%.

Conversely, the best states were Montana with 67.5% inbound van moves, followed by Vermont at 65.8%, Arkansas at 62.7%, North Carolina at 61.4% and South Carolina at 59.4%.

Oh, how did California’s economic arch-rivals fare? Texas was 19th best at 53.6% inbound and Florida was No. 14 at 55.6%.

Bottom line

California’s weather, landscape and wealth creation is no longer a big lure to other Americans.

Everything from high living costs to tax policies to crowded living to questions about safety have dramatically dimmed California’s attractiveness.

But population trends can be faddish, too. Consider what shows up when we compare 2023 van moves nationwide with the previous year.

California’s half-point slip of its share of inbound relocations was only the 14th-worst performance nationally. The largest drops were in North Dakota, off 4.2 percentage points, Oregon, off 3.3 – and three big names from the south: Tennessee, off 2.4 points, Texas, off 2.1, and Florida, off 2 points.

Meanwhile, the biggest gainers in inbound share of moves were primarily in the Northeast – No. 1 was Vermont, up 5.4 percentage points, then New York at 4.5, Iowa at 4.2, Massachusetts at 3.5 and DC at 3.5.

Have some of the pandemic’s high-profile hot spots for relocations lost some luster?

Jonathan Lansner is the business columnist for the Southern California News Group. He can be reached at [email protected]