When Sacramentans pack up their stuff and move out of state, they tend to go to places that are a lot like Sacramento.
With one notable exception, the five cities outside California that are most popular with emigrants from the four-county Sacramento region have sunny weather, similar incomes and homes that cost about the same or less.
The outlier is Seattle, where housing prices, average incomes and rainfall totals are much higher than in Sacramento. Rounding out the top five were Reno, which welcomed more than 1,000 Sacramento-area immigrants in one year, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Austin, Texas.
The latest figures on out-migration came from the Internal Revenue Service and were based on 2015 tax returns. The IRS data is one of the best sources for measuring population shifts, though it usually lags two to three years behind.
Movement is measured at the county level, meaning people from Sacramento, Placer, Yolo and El Dorado counties moved to areas such as Maricopa County, Ariz. – which includes the cities of Phoenix, Mesa and Scottsdale – and Washoe County, Nev. – home to Reno, Sparks and the Incline Village area of Lake Tahoe.
“From some parts of the Sacramento metro area, (Washoe County) is walking distance,” said Jeffrey Michael, Director of the Center for Business and Policy Research at the University of the Pacific in Stockton. The eastern portion of Placer County, which is deemed part of the Sacramento region for statistical purposes, abuts Washoe County on the shores of Lake Tahoe.
People from the Sacramento region usually move nearby, whether it’s in-state or out-of-state, Michael said. Within California, most Sacramento-area residents went to neighboring San Joaquin and Solano counties, the IRS data showed.
Many go outside the state. A record 5 million Californians left between 2004 and 2013.
The most popular metropolitan areas – Reno, Las Vegas and Phoenix – are relatively close, affordable and familiar.
Texas has proven hugely popular with Californians. About 600,000 residents left for Texas between 2004 and 2013, the most of any state. But Michael said he was surprised Austin had outranked much larger and less-expensive cities such as Houston, Dallas and San Antonio in receiving Sacramento transplants during 2015.
The usual wisdom is that people go to Texas because it’s cheaper, but home prices in Austin are about the same as in Sacramento, and incomes aren’t much higher.
The fact that both cities are state capitals might partly explain it, Michael said. Austin is also one of the more politically and socially liberal parts of Texas, which appeals to many Californians, he said.
People mainly move for work, lifestyle and to be part of faster-growing economies, not to save money, Michael said. The same logic explains why people move from Sacramento to Seattle, Portland and Denver. Those cities boast vibrant economies and cultural scenes but can be costly.
“Something cheaper is part of the migration but so is employment and excitement,” Michael said. “That’s more often the impetus than fleeing high costs.”