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The prospect of moving to LA to pursue one’s dreams is embedded in American popular culture. Young hopefuls have been traveling west since the early days of Hollywood’s golden age, when stars like Bette Davis and Clark Gable came in search of fame and fortune. 

But the LA dream is fading away for thousands of residents as the city’s high housing costs and pandemic-related restrictions make it a less desirable place to live. Without the need to rent or own within commuting distance of the office, many Angelenos are hitting the freeways and relocating to less expensive metro areas.

According to the latest population figures from the California Department of Finance, Los Angeles County lost 40,036 residents between July 1, 2019 and July 1, 2020 — the steepest decline of any county in the state.

California experienced its slowest rate of growth since 1900 at 0.05 percent, representing a net gain of 21,200 residents. An estimated 135,600 residents left California entirely, with many of them relocating to lower-priced sunbelt states like Nevada, Arizona and Texas. As of July, the statewide population stood at 39.78 million.

While the volume of outbound movers was on par with 2019’s total, in-migration to California was severely hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic. New visas weren’t granted to immigrants coming to the state for work opportunities, would-be newcomers faced a precarious job market, and 14,000 fewer babies were born amid the global health crisis.

“A lot of people who might otherwise have come to California didn’t, because they didn’t go anywhere,” said H.D. Palmer, the deputy director for external affairs at the Department of Finance, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “They stayed home. That’s something that’s different than any other year.”

Online rental platform Apartment List’s Renter Migration Report for Q4 2020 sheds some light on where Angelenos are looking to relocate. Nearly 24 percent of all searches on the site by current Los Angeles residents were for destinations outside of their metro area — down from 37.7 percent in 2019.

Phoenix was the most popular city among outbound searchers, garnering 17.3 percent of all queries. Arizona’s state capital was followed by Riverside (13.5 percent), San Diego (8.3 percent) and Las Vegas (6.1 percent).

Los Angeles renter migration trends are similar to those of homebuyers. A Redfin survey published in June found that the top out-of-market destinations for home searchers in LA were San Diego, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Dallas. While San Diego home prices are nearly as hot as Los Angeles, the three out-of-state metros tout median home prices in the low- to high-$300,000s. 

While California may have lost its luster for some, it remains the most populous state in the nation by a margin of over 10.5 million. 

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