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Study says poor Bay Area expats stay in California, wealthy leave

Migratory trends are much more likely to displace people of color

Construction and shipping equipment on the river in Stockton.
Low-income people leaving the Bay Area are more likely to end up in places like Stockton.
Photo by Terrance Emerson/Shutterstock

Not only does money make the world go around, it’s also the deciding factor in where you’re likely to land when it does.

Contracting site Build Zoom and UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation published a joint study titled “Disparity In Departure” examining where former Bay Area residents move to once they decide to depart the region.

As it turns out, the answer often hinges on income levels. One of the coauthors tells the San Francisco Chronicle that while this pattern is not a recent development, they become more pronounced in the current housing crisis.

The study examines census data to chart migration patters between 2010 and 2016. A few key takeaways:

  • Unsurprisingly, low-income people are far more likely to leave than wealthy ones: “Almost 40 percent of the Bay Area’s domestic out-migrants were in households that earned less than $50,000 a year. [...] For every one person in the top income category (with annual household incomes of $200,000 or more) who left the region between 2010 and 2016, six people under the $100,000 mark moved out.”
  • But low-income expats tend to stay in California—often relatively close to their previous homes: “More than 55 percent of Bay Area out-migrants in households earning less than $50,000 a year stayed in California, [heading to] more affordable markets, such as the Sacramento region or Central Valley metro areas, like Modesto or Fresno.”
  • Often, this is an attempt to preserve ties with existing communities: “Such moves are likely to reflect economic necessity more often than voluntary will, as movers seek affordable housing further and further from California’s coastal economic nexus, while trying to maintain proximity to family, friends, and their broader social circle.”
Wealthy expats sometimes head to pricy markets like LA, but are far more likely to just leave the state.
Photo by oneinchpunch
  • On the other hand, wealthy people are more likely to forsake California for other wealthy locales: “Most of the higher-income households that left the Bay Area left California altogether. Just one-third of those in households earning more than $200,000 a year stayed in the state, and those that did were most likely to move to other high-cost coastal regions like Los Angeles and San Diego.” The majority who left the state preferred destinations like New York, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Denver.
  • These migratory trends are much more likely to displace non-white people: “Blacks and Hispanics made up a disproportionately large share of lower-income out-movers. [...] The tendency of out-movers to be lower-income was a shade more pronounced for Blacks than for Hispanics, but is striking for both. Asian and White out-movers, on the other hand, skewed modestly towards higher-income.”

Researchers note that despite the forces driving many from their Bay Area homes, the region’s overall population continues to rise.

Of course, newcomers are more likely to be wealthy than longtime residents or those who plan on abandoning the region.