Why New York and California are losing people, power to Texas and Florida

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Californians and New Yorkers are voting with their feet, which means Texas and Florida are getting more votes.

For the first time in its history, California will lose a seat in the House of Representatives because its population has declined relative to the other states. New York state is losing a seat for the same reason.

Meanwhile, Texas will be picking up two House seats, and my fellow Texans are distinctly of two minds about that: Growth has its benefits, and homeowners are enjoying watching our equity boom, but there are those among us who would prefer that Californians remain safely quarantined in California rather than see them colonize Austin and Dallas.

There are similar feelings in the air in Florida, which is gaining one House member. New York lost a seat because it came up short by 89 people, and you can find all 89 of them standing in line at that one good bagel place in Palm Beach.

California was for years a practically irresistible draw both for immigrants from abroad and for internal migrants. From the 19th-century gold rush until the early 21st century, the majority of people living in California were not born there — the majority were born either in another state or in another country. That changed in the 2010 Census, when native-born Californians became a majority.

California has been bleeding US-born residents off and on for decades, but for many years those numbers were replenished and then some by foreign-born immigrants. And that is not hard to understand: For the past few decades, San Francisco may have looked absurdly expensive if your alternatives were Houston or Tampa Bay, but not if your reference points were Hong Kong or Zurich. But that gets less true by the day. San Francisco’s housing prices are now higher than those in London or Hong Kong.

The housing problem in California is partly a matter of demand — very wealthy people still want to live in the Bay Area and Beverly Hills — but it is also a matter of supply and, specifically, of the artificial constraints put on the supply of housing in the state by crazy zoning laws and environmental regulations that are absolutely bananas. This isn’t a market failure — it is a policy failure. 

New York’s problems — and especially New York City’s problems — documented at great length in these pages, are also in great part the result of misgovernance, a product of the stupidity, arrogance, and incompetence of Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio, among others. New York City does not have San Francisco’s housing problem, but that is because rents and prices are declining as the population dwindles. New York City was losing 376 people a day before COVID-19, according to Bloomberg, and the Postal Service estimates that more than 100,000 New Yorkers relocated elsewhere between February and July of 2020. 

But there’s more in play than high taxes and high rents. The increasingly stifling and conformist “woke” political culture of California and New York have made them less attractive to many of the kind of people who have the money and the freedom to pack up and move to Texas or Florida. And the two states’ overbearing response to the coronavirus epidemic — which, incredibly enough, managed to be both heavy-handed and ineffective at the same time — poured gasoline on a fire that already was smoldering. 

There was a time when an investment firm had to have a Manhattan office and a technology company had to be in Silicon Valley, but those days are gone, as Palm Beach and Austin can attest. Where the money and the jobs go, the people will go. 

And where the people go, political power follows. 

Kevin D. Williamson is a former New Yorker now living in Texas. He is the author of “Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Woolly Wilds of the ‘Real America” (Regnery), out now. 

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