Bethany Jansen and her husband, Andrew, decided to pack up their 500 square foot apartment in Venice and move to Bethany’s hometown near St. Louis and start a new life and business.
Jansen, who worked in downtown Los Angeles before the COVID-19 pandemic, commuted two hours a day. Jansen, 32, and her 34-year-old husband made about $150,000 combined a year, but they felt that wasn’t enough to afford a home in the neighborhoods they wanted to live.
Now in St. Louis, the couple make less money but say it goes a lot further — and without the intense commutes.
“We get more from our salary and the quality of life is better because we are not sitting in a car all day in traffic,” she said. “Working from home has allowed me to set my own schedule and my mental health is much better. We don’t make six figures like we used to, but that doesn’t matter as much because we can pay the rent and do the things we need to do.
The Jansens represent part of the Los Angeles exodus and other big cities that took place during the pandemic, which opened up many remote work opportunities, as well as sparked deep conversations about what they wanted out of life.
For fairly high-income people who left Los Angeles, a big factor was housing prices, which continued to soar during the pandemic and left them wondering if they could ever buy a home here.
“It was a factor knowing that we were never going to be able to afford a house,” she said. “People buy a cabin in Los Angeles for $700,000, renovate it and resell it for $1.5 million. No matter how hard we work, we’ll never be able to afford it.
The couple are now paying $1,300 a month to live in a three-bedroom house that they said felt like a ‘mansion’ compared to their one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles, which costs around $1,800 a month to to rent out.
“You don’t get the scenery and culture here as much, being able to drive to the beach — those are the things we miss in LA,” Jansen said. “But that’s the kind of stuff we’re willing to give up to have this life here.”
Much has been made of population shifts outside of California’s coastal centers, such as Los Angeles and the Bay Area, and the new lives some people have found in other parts of the state and country. For those with the financial means, the trade-offs involved giving up the dream of living in the Golden State with the cheaper housing and other financial advantages of cheaper cities.
But demographic experts doubt these shifts in urban populations are permanent.
People will eventually come back, they say, new residents will be attracted to all that California has to offer, and immigration will help offset the exodus.
Of the nation’s 56 major metropolitan areas, Los Angeles had the second largest digital population loss between July 1, 2020 and July 1, 2021, according to a Brookings Institution analysis using US Census Bureau estimates. Net inward migration — the number of people moving compared to those moving in — was 204,776 in Los Angeles, nearly double the population loss the city experienced between 2019 and 2020, when it lost 128,803 inhabitants.
“I don’t think we should view California as a long-term demographic loser. Immigration will return, and there will be some wiggle room in terms of affordability and other opportunities.
— William Frey, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute
Like other major metropolitan areas, LA has seen an increase in internal emigration since 2010 as more residents moved to other parts of the country and the economy improved. Between 2019 and 2020, emigration did not change significantly in the LA metro area compared to previous years, but it increased sharply between 2020 and 2021.
William Frey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a demographer who wrote the analysis, said California has been losing middle-class residents and gaining young professionals and college graduates since around 2000, and because immigration has significantly decreased in the United States during the pandemic, the flow of immigrants has not been sufficient to counter internal emigration.
“California being a pretty liberal state, they have all these programs to help with student loans and affordable housing, but there’s a niche of people who don’t do that badly to qualify, but they could do a lot better by moving somewhere else,” he said.
International migration slowed down during the pandemic, hitting the lowest levels in the United States in decades, according to Census Bureau data. The United States gained 244,000 immigrants between 2020 and 2021 – a significant drop from the one million who came to the United States between 2015 and 2016 and the 477,000 who immigrated between 2019 and 2020.
In the LA metro area, 5,237 international residents moved in from 2020 to 2021 — the lowest number in more than two decades, according to Frey’s analysis of census estimates. In comparison, around 11,676 international migrants settled in the city between 2018 and 2019.
Frey expects immigration to resume and help repopulate the state’s workforce.
“I don’t think we should view California as a long-term demographic loser,” he said. “Immigration will come back, and there will be some wiggle room in terms of affordability and other opportunities.”
Frey also said the past two years won’t be a good predictor of long-term migration trends in Los Angeles, and he expects some residents to return after the pandemic.
“Everyone says it has to do with working from home changing people’s work habits, but sooner or later they’re going to want to regroup again to some degree,” he said. “There is so much on the California coast with its diverse economy. People who have a creative upbringing will want to live there. It’s too early to say it’s the end. »
USC economics professor Matthew Kahn, who wrote the book ‘Going Remote’ about working from home during the pandemic, said despite high taxes, California has always been able to retain residents thanks to high quality services and amenities, including the weather and its picturesque beaches. The problem arises when people no longer believe these services live up to their expectations, he said.
“The super-rich can always have the best of everything. But if you felt like housing was expensive, you were worried about the quality of schools, and what you wanted out of life wasn’t all you it takes, COVID has been a wake-up call to try something new and experiment,” he said.
The COVID-19 crisis has opened up new opportunities for more residents to live farther from their jobs, and many Californians have taken advantage of this, Kahn said.
“Americans tend to live 30 minutes from their place of work, but in the future it could be a bigger radius if you only go a few days a month,” he said.
Kahn thinks one way for California leaders to deal with the recent exodus is to focus on improving their services.
“Cities like LA should be doing a better job of keeping these people if they’re freer,” he said. “I’m a big believer in competition, and so if California is exporting wealth and losing the upper middle class, cities will have to do a better job of fighting crime, improving quality of life, reducing pollution – all the things we care about are the quality of everyday life.
Taylor Avakian, a Los Angeles broker and senior partner at Matthews Real Estate Investment Services, said he’s seen Californians move to Florida, Texas and other hot states because of lower taxes.
“People would rather pay less tax, and a big catalyst has been the pandemic,” he said. “We pay taxes for the great things we get here in California, like the Mediterranean weather, and we didn’t have access to it because everything was closed. People asked, “Why am I paying for this equipment when I can’t use it?”
In November 2020, Tulasi Lovell moved from Culver City to a large house in Ramona, San Diego County.
Lovell, 34, wanted to own a property but couldn’t afford to buy in Los Angeles. After many of her friends left Los Angeles during the pandemic and she no longer had to work in an office, Lovell decided to move after about a year to Ramona in Brooklyn, NY, with the intention of buy a house in a nearby suburb.
Lovell, who earns $200,000 a year with her husband, said it wouldn’t be possible for them to buy a desirable home in Los Angeles.
“There’s the joke that if you see a million dollar property in LA, it’s doomed,” she said. “I feel like it’s not suitable right now, unless you already bought your house years ago. Becoming a new owner is almost impossible.
Sarah Dobbyn, 41, gave birth to her second child in April 2020, just as local businesses and parks closed, leaving her and her husband, Joe, with nowhere to take their children.
The couple decided to move to Lake Oswego, Oregon, where Dobbyn’s parents had a four-bedroom house which they offered in exchange for paying for repairs and upkeep of the house.
“We have two kids here, and we had to let go of the dream of living the LA life and being able to go to the beach and manage in a tiny apartment,” she said. “We make a good salary, but our money hasn’t gone very far in LA”
Dobbyn, who earns just over $100,000 a year, said she and her husband couldn’t have afforded a house in Los Angeles, and if they did, they would have had to move further afield .
“It was the quality of life for us, our son and the new baby,” she said. “If Joe and I hadn’t had children, we could have stayed in Los Angeles”
Lovell said she could see even more people leave Los Angeles if businesses continue to let employees work from home.
“If more jobs are decentralized with remote work, the middle class has so many better options,” she said.