The Truth Behind the Los Angeles Exodus

Media outlets have been promoting the narrative of “The Great California Exodus” since the beginning of the COVID pandemic in 2020, with a special focus on residents “fleeing” Los Angeles. 

And yet, census data show increases in the population of the Los Angeles Metro Area every year since 2019.   

So what is really happening here? Are we living through an LA exodus? Is the LA Exodus a myth? Or is something else going on?

The Case for the Exodus

It’s true that the population of Los Angeles County has dipped a bit. But not by as much as you might think. 

Census data indicates that LA County lost around 90,000 residents from 2021 to 2022. That sounds like a lot. Until you remember that LA County is home to over 9.72 million residents. This 90,000-person exodus amounts to a loss of less than one percent. 

But if you feel like everyone is leaving Los Angeles, you’re not alone. Over the last few years, we’ve all seen many media reports of another high-profile move from LA to Texas. Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Joe Rogan, Elon Musk…even Emma Stone left La La Land for the Lone Star State. 

This string of reports has cultivated an availability bias in the zeitgeist. The availability heuristic says that humans give more weight to events that we can quickly recall. With these highly visible relocations away from LA, it’s easier to recall an instance of people leaving the city than staying happily in LA (which millions of people do every year, but there’s nothing newsworthy about that).  

The Case Against the Exodus

The population of LA County may have ticked down, but the population of the LA Metro Area is up. 

Consider the following data, compiled by Macrotrends:

  • The current metro area population of Los Angeles in 2023 is 12,534,000, a 0.37% increase from 2022.
  • The metro area population of Los Angeles in 2022 was 12,488,000, a 0.23% increase from 2021.
  • The metro area population of Los Angeles in 2021 was 12,459,000, a 0.1% increase from 2020.

What does this tell us? It tells us that people might be stepping outside of Los Angeles County, but they still want to be part of the LA Community, so they’re staying close. 

Take Riverside County, just east of LA County, for example. From 2020 to 2022, the population of Riverside Countygrew from 2.423 million to 2.474 million. That’s more than 1% growth per year. 

The Verdict: People Want to Be in LA; They Just Need a Place to Live 

The growth of Riverside County is significant because it supports the idea that people are leaving LA in search of more affordable housing. Mayor Garcetti pointed to the high cost of housing as a key factor in losing residents of the City of Los Angeles to neighboring areas where more affordable housing can be found. 

This leads to a singular conclusion: creating more dwelling units to ease the housing shortage and bring rent growth to more sustainable levels, and people will gladly return to Los Angeles. 

Through new multi-family developments, and the addition of ADUs (accessory dwelling units) on single-family lots, we can create more housing and help Angelinos come back home. If you build it, they will come.  

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