Across a frightened nation divided by politics and culture, a fragile harmony is ascendant, as Americans in small towns and large cities alike cry out in trembling unison: Hey, where did all these Californians come from?
Talk of a “California Exodus” is sweeping the country—and so are anxieties about its effects on the rest of the West. In October, the Boise mayoral candidate Wayne Richey proposed at an election forum to build a $26 billion wall to keep out people moving from the Golden State. (His backup plan to stop the invasion of Boise? "Trash the place.”) A viral Wall Street Journal article recounted the plight of a small Idaho town buckling under the stress of thousands of inbound Californians. And this month, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a warning on Twitter to Californians moving to his state: “Remember those high taxes, burdensome regulations, & socialistic agenda advanced in CA? We don't believe in that.” The sentiment was echoed in various warnings in Dallas newspapers about the awful “California-ing” of North Texas.
In 2016, President Donald Trump swept the Republican primary with a simple message: Build a wall to keep out the immigrants. Today, a new anti-migration theme is sweeping the country: Build a wall to keep out the Californians.
But is the California Exodus real?
From one perspective, the answer is very clearly yes. In 2012, California gained 113,000 people on net through domestic and international migration. Last year, California lost 40,000 people on net to migration, according to its own demographers. The state still grew, thanks to births, but at the lowest rate on record. Now the U.S. state most synonymous with all varieties of growth—vegetal, technological, and human—is at the precipice of its first-ever population decline.