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California exodus: A record number of people are fleeing the Golden State for Florida

Ryan Lillis, The Sacramento Bee on

Published in News & Features

Texas has long been the top landing spot in the United States for residents leaving California. Nevada and Arizona, two states that share a border with California, have also traditionally been among the top destinations.

There’s suddenly a new contender attracting people fleeing California: Ron DeSantis’s Florida.

New data from the census bureau show that more people left California for Florida in 2022 than in any year going back to at least 2005.

An estimated 50,701 people moved from California to Florida between 2021 and 2022, according to census figures, making Florida the third-most popular domestic destination for people fleeing the Golden State, behind Texas and Arizona. Meanwhile, about 28,000 people moved from Florida to California, meaning the Golden State lost a net 22,000 residents to the Sunshine State.

That wave of migration is sure to be a topic Thursday evening when DeSantis and California Gov. Gavin Newsom face off during a live televised debate on Fox News Channel. The two governors have engaged in a war of words for months that has created a bi-coastal political rivalry among two of the nation’s largest states.

Florida is thousands of miles from California and may seem an unlikely destination for transplants. But Terry Gilliam isn’t surprised migration between California and Florida increased significantly last year.

Gilliam launched a pair of Facebook groups in 2018 for people who were either interested in moving from California or had already made the jump. He has since left the East Bay for Orlando, Florida, and his Facebook groups have a combined 280,000 followers.

“Obviously it’s a little different, but they (people who have moved from California to Florida) love life here,” Gilliam said Wednesday in a telephone interview from his home. “You have to deal with the humidity in summer, we have more snakes and you might see an alligator if you swim in a lake. But we live in a free state here. You can carry a firearm if you want to. We don’t have to worry about high taxes. I paid $3.19 a gallon for gas yesterday.”

Gilliam thinks many are compelled to move to Florida for financial reasons (Florida is one of nine states without an income tax). But he also thinks many Golden State refugees are heading to the southeast for political reasons – specifically because of their opposition to Newsom and embrace of DeSantis’s far more conservative views.


For that reason, Gilliam said he’ll be watching Thursday’s debate with a lot of interest.

“It’s good versus evil,” he said with a laugh.

California has been losing hundreds of thousands of residents to other states in recent years. The state lost a net of about 342,000 residents to other states in 2022. Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon and Washington have traditionally been the top landing spots for those fleeing.

A decade ago, roughly the same number of people left California for Florida each year as arrived here from the Gulf Coast state. That trend remained mostly steady for years, census figures show, although Florida gained a net of about 6,000 residents from California in 2019.

Then the pandemic hit.

An estimated 37,464 people left California for Florida in 2021, while 24,692 headed this way – a net gain of about 13,000 residents for Florida. The exodus to the southeast increased even more last year, the data shows.


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