Data Tracker

Why is California losing military veterans faster than most states?

California is quickly losing its veterans.

Barely one in 20 adults living in California during 2016 served in the military. The number of military veterans per capita in California fell 48 percent between 2000 and 2016, much faster than the nationwide decline, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Only five states — New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island — saw a larger decline in veterans per capita between 2000 and 2016. Only two states — New York and New Jersey — have a lower percentage of adults who served in the military.

All states have seen a drop in veterans as World War II veterans die, but a few factors set California apart from most states.

One is the price of housing. It is more expensive to buy or rent a home in California than it is in most other states.

Within California, counties with high median home prices tended to have large declines in veterans per capita since 2000.

Other factors may include:

California is losing residents to other states. Between 2000 and 2016, about 800,000 California military veterans left the state while just 540,000 military veterans came here from other states, according to a Bee review of U.S. Census data.

Multiple military bases have closed in California during the past few decades. Areas around military bases tend to have high concentrations of veterans. As closed bases fade into memory, the number of veterans in those communities also declines.

The nation is becoming more politically segregated. People with similar political beliefs tend to move close to one another. States with a low proportion of Trump voters in 2016 also tended to have large declines in military veterans per capita.

Much of California’s population growth in the past two decades has come from immigration. Foreign born U.S. residents are less likely to be military veterans (though hundreds of thousands of naturalized U.S. citizens serve in the armed forces).

Phillip Reese is The Bee’s data specialist and teaches at Sacramento State: 916-321-1137