USPS data reveals households fled SF during pandemic, but didn’t go far

To hear many people tell it, California is seeing a mass out-of-state migration based on a number of reasons from high cost of housing, congestion, homelessness, taxation and even fear of crime. But, given the new ability of many Californians to telework from anywhere, is the Golden State's population just fading away?

"I think people are moving out due to the expenses and high rents. People cannot afford it," said Oaklander Gerlanda Gelin. 

"I know that because close friends of mine are planning on moving," said Babak Milani, also of Oakland.

The U.S. Postal Service's analysis of address change requests shows nearly 80,000 San Francisco households moved out of the city during March and November 2020, while 27,000 households moved in; a net loss of 53,000.

But, some 28,000 households moved to another Bay Area county and another 4,000 stayed in California. Only two out-of-state metro areas even made the top 20 destinations: Austin, Texas and Denver, Colorado; gaining less than 500 San Francisco households between them. Many moved to other places while many others apparently left no forwarding address.

Adam Fowler, chief research economist at Beacon Economics, said, "Our population growth, year over year, has been strong for a very long time. In the last couple of years, that growth has slowed."

The latest numbers, from July 2019 to July 2020, show that though 135,000 Californians moved out, the Golden State still grew by 21,000 people, thanks mostly to immigration, these immigrants are often times educated people.

If anything, in some parts of California, population change is like riding a pogo stick on an up escalator. Especially housing prices, I think, are really constraining our growth," said Mr. Fowler.

Atlas Van Lines said that U.S. states that had the most people move out were New York, Illinois, New Jersey, Louisiana and West Virginia; not California. States with the most inbound moves were Idaho, North Carolina, Maine, New Hampshire and Alabama.

U-Haul, usually a cheaper way to move yourself showed that most customers leaving the Bay Area during the pandemic chose California first. I think it's worth flagging. I don't think it's worth writing the obituary yet. Where I have optimism is: this is within our control," said Fowler.

The big fix, build a lot of modest, affordable, prefabricated housing that cities and counties are prohibited from taking on outrageous development and permit fees.