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  1. #1
    Senior Member AlturaCt's Avatar
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    Droves say goodbye to Golden State

    By Mike Swift
    Mercury News

    Wayne Brown gave up $40,000 in income to move from the Bay Area to Kansas. And he feels great.

    It got to be too much last year for the college information-technology officer: the commute to downtown San Francisco that sometimes took two hours, the housing-price spiral and the high-wire borrowing that paid for it.

    ``I would find myself sitting in traffic,'' Brown recalled, ``screaming at people.''

    When the Kansas job came up in early 2005, Brown and his wife, Teresa, sold two Bay Area homes and happily settled in a suburb of Kansas City. They have never looked back.

    The Browns are an example of what demographers say appears to be an unprecedented phenomenon -- even in a good economy, more people are leaving California for other states than are arriving from the rest of the country.

    Between 2004 and 2005, the migration flow into California from the other 49 states started flowing the other way. Data from the state Department of Finance shows that, for the first time this decade, more people left California in 2005 for another state than the number who moved in. Mary Heim, a finance department demographer, says this particular kind of outflow will continue for the foreseeable future.

    Unlike the tens of thousands who left Silicon Valley following the tech bust earlier this decade, the new migration is about the quest for something besides a job: a better quality of life at a lower cost of living.

    For 150 years, California has been seen as the Golden State of opportunity and freedom for millions of migrating Americans. Other than recessions in the 1970s and 1990s, and possibly wars, ``I don't know if California would ever have been in a position where it was losing people to other states,'' said Hans Johnson, a demographer with the Public Policy Institute of California. ``This is very new and very different.''

    Population still growing

    That doesn't mean California has lost its luster as a beacon for the nation's dreams. The flow of people to other states is small. And as the most populous state and the capital of the West, California is experiencing an out-migration that is more about maturation than decline, historians and economists say. California's population of 37 million people is still growing, because of a surplus of births over deaths and because of foreign immigration.

    ``What California was in the 1960s and 1970s -- a place of growth and expansion -- that California formula has been taken to so many other places'' in the Sunbelt, said Kevin Starr, a history professor at the University of Southern California who specializes in the state's history.

    Increasingly, the coast from San Diego to the Bay Area is like the Upper East Side of Manhattan, Starr said, a place that selects the most talented and wealthy. ``It's become an extremely competitive and elite society,'' he said.

    The most common destinations for departing Californians in recent years are five Western states -- Arizona, Nevada, Texas, Washington and Oregon, IRS data show.

    ``It's to some extent a continuation of a really old California story, which is that California helps populate the rest of the West,'' said James N. Gregory, a historian at the University of Washington who studies Western migration. ``It has been sending people to its neighboring states for 150 years.''

    As far back as the Comstock Lode in 1859, when the discovery of silver sent miners swarming into Nevada, California has been a primary source of the white population of many of the Western states.

    Just as ``Las Vegas was a creation of Los Angeles . . . Seattle to some extent always was a colony of San Francisco,'' Gregory said. ``As the most populous state in the country for almost half a century now, there's a kind of inevitable slowing down of growth, and so many people there are available to move to other places.''

    A new group has joined that movement in recent years.

    The flow of Latinos out of California is fueling a Latino diaspora across the United States. This movement, which began in the mid-1990s, has grown into a full-fledged phenomenon, populating places such as the Northeast, Midwest and South, where Mexican-Americans only recently have lived in significant numbers. Johnson's analysis of census data shows that between 2000 and 2005, about 320,000 more Latinos left California than arrived from other states.

    Latinos now ``see opportunity in a different part of the country, as opposed to the historically primary areas [of migration], such as Los Angeles or San Jose,'' said Albert M. Camarillo, a Stanford University history professor who studies Latino immigration.

    In addition to Latinos, whites and African-Americans also are migrating out of California. Those leaving, according to Johnson, tend to have higher incomes and be older than those arriving from other states. The only ethnic group to have more people move into California than leave are Asians.

    A flow of migrants to other states is not a worry in and of itself -- if foreign immigration provides a pool of highly educated workers to replace them. A bigger worry is that the state's exorbitant housing prices relative to the rest of the country could act as a brake to economic growth if employers can't find workers.

    ``It's harder to keep people here; it's harder to attract people from abroad; it's harder to attract people domestically,'' said Stephen Levy, director of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto. ``It's a huge potential barrier.''

    Housing is key

    Nearly half of California's homeowners spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing -- significantly higher than in any other state, 2005 census data shows.

    ``Families just can't make it in the housing market,'' said Dowell Myers, a professor of urban planning and demography at the University of Southern California. ``Low-income families are being priced out of rentals, and middle-income families are being priced out of homeownership, and we don't know where they are going.''

    Housing costs, including property taxes, also influence people who are more affluent. Stephen and Sarah Gallant moved back to Michigan this summer after nearly three years in Los Gatos, trading a $2 million house for one in Michigan that was about half the cost and double the size.

    ``It was all about lifestyle,'' said Stephen Gallant, who left a job as chief financial officer for Global Motorsport Group in Morgan Hill so the couple and their two boys could move back to a Detroit suburb. ``If I'm going to spend $1 million on a house as opposed to $2 million, that opens up a lot of purchasing power, the ability to go out and do other things.''

    `Racial component'

    Johnson thinks there's another reason for California's out-migration. ``There's also a racial component, I think, to the conversation.''

    He notes the anger on www.city-data.com/forum/, a Web site for people considering a move to or from U.S. cities.

    ``Illegals push you off the sidewalks, ram your cars and speed through red lights and stop signs while honking their horns like they did in Mexico, and refuse to even entertain the notion of ever learning English. Welcome to Los Angeles,'' reads one typical Southern Californian's posting.

    ``This is why I (and thousands of other `Angelinos') are looking to move out of state. Call it `white flight' if you will . . . but whatever happened to the good ol' days?'' wrote another person on the string about illegal immigration.

    No one thinks the flow out of California in future years will be nearly as large as it was in the recession-plagued 1990s, or that California is headed toward becoming a version of the Midwestern Rust Belt, its commercial and human vitality draining away. But demographer Heim said there's no sign when the out-migration will stop.

    ``Some of the people leaving are families with children because school enrollment is declining at a quicker pace than we'd projected,'' she said.

    In Silicon Valley, with many companies adding jobs, fewer people have left for other states in recent years. In 2005, the net outflow from Santa Clara County to other states was about 18,000 people -- about half what it was in 2003, IRS data shows.

    Brown, who lived in Dublin before he moved to Kansas, believes he did well in spite of his pay cut because the cost of living is so much lower in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park. He and his wife were able to cash out the equity in real estate they owned and get a jump on saving for retirement.

    Brown loved the Bay Area's weather, but much of the time he had to enjoy it stuck inside his car. On weekends, he and his wife were often too tired from work and commuting to take advantage of the Bay Area's cultural and recreational riches.

    ``During the week, it was no life,'' Brown said. ``And really there was no way to relieve stress from work; it just continued on in my life.''


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Contact Mike Swift at mswift@mercurynews.com or (40 271-3648.

    http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/16208270.htm
    [b]Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder.
    - Arnold J. Toynbee

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