The University Record, April 4, 1994

Frey: Immigration pressure leads California to ‘export’ poor, working class people to nearby states

By Diane Swanbrow
News and Information Services

Recent immigration is leading California to “export” poverty-level, low-skilled residents to Washington, Oregon, Nevada and Arizona, according to a U-M study presented at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers.

“A chain reaction seems to be occurring between the arrival of low-skilled immigrants to Los Angeles and San Francisco and the spread of poor and working-class Californians to adjacent states,” says William H. Frey, a demographer who conducted the study.

Frey’s findings are based on recently released 1990 census tabulations.

“Typically, migration selects ‘the best and the brightest,’ ” Frey says, “so that losing states ship their more talented residents to growing states. But this is not the case with California.”

From 1985 to 1990, as immigration levels rose, California exported more than 38,000 poverty migrants to Washington, Oregon, Nevada and Arizona, and lost only 3,200 poverty migrants to the rest of the country.

In addition, California lost more than 85,000 households with incomes below $35,000 and 145,000 people with less than college education to its four nearby states.

According to Frey, this churning outward of Californians at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum is an indirect consequence of the high immigration to the state. “The increased competition for blue-collar and service jobs, a middle-class housing squeeze and probably some aversion to racial and ethnic diversity all play some role in the decision to move out,” Frey says, “and each of these is linked to the recent immigration flows.”

The origins are most evident inside California’s high-immigration counties. For example, 210,000 poverty immigrants moved into Los Angeles County from 1985 to 1990 but the county had a net loss of 88,000 poverty residents due to out-migration.

California’s loss of poverty and working-class migrants represents gains for surrounding states and metropolitan areas, Frey notes. Well over one-half the poverty migration into Nevada and Oregon in the late 1980s is attributable to California “exports,” as are more than one-third of the poverty migration gains in Washington and Arizona.

The uniqueness of California’s migration relationship with its surrounding states is pointed up by its more “normal” relationship with the rest of the country, Frey notes. In the late 1980s, California gained more than 150,000 households with incomes greater than $35,000 from states other than Washington, Oregon, Nevada and Arizona. It also gained a similar number of college graduates from non-nearby states. These highly selective in-migration exchanges reflect the fact that well-educated professionals are less affected by competition with the state’s immigrant flows.