Nobody on welfare moves, San Francisco edition

“Bay Area exodus: Median income drops as wealthy residents move out” (

New census data is shining more light on the Bay Area’s pandemic exodus: The region saw the largest drop in median income of any big U.S. metro area as wealthy people moved away — and current residents of all incomes are more likely to relocate soon than in any other major population center.

Household income in the San Francisco metro area fell 4.6% from 2019 to 2021 to $116,005 a year, according to a census report released this month.

The article highlights rich people moving, but, given that some percentage of Americans move every year, the drop in median income could just as easily be caused by no-income and low-income people staying. The article does not note that someone who is signed up to the full package of means-tested benefits (not to be characterized as “welfare”!), i.e., free housing, free health care, free food (SNAP/EBT), Obamaphone, and the new free broadband, is extremely unlikely to move (since it could take 10-20 years on waitlists to get the same package in a different location or state).

So a city or state is guaranteed to hold onto its lowest-income citizens (not to say “poorest” because they may enjoy a median earner’s lifestyle; see below) even when everyone else seeks to move, e.g., due to lockdowns, school closures, social disorder, and high crime.

From “The Work versus Welfare Trade‐​Off: 2013” (CATO), Figure 4:

Ignore the pre-Biden dollar figures and concentrate on the “percentage of median salary” column, which should be valid despite inflation. Prior to the 2020-2022 coronapanic enhancements to welfare, in other words, being on welfare in California yielded roughly the same spending power as working full time at the median wage (and with no risk of exposure to a virus at work and no need to wear a mask for 8 hours per day).

I think it is interesting from the point of view of journalism that the situation is characterized by rich people disproportionately moving rather than by welfare state beneficiaries disproportionately staying.

7 thoughts on “Nobody on welfare moves, San Francisco edition

  1. They’re not leaving Calif*. They’re moving out of the city. They’ll be back & generation Z will be fighting for just a spot to park their $1 million sprinter vans. Silicon Valley really does have amnesia. The homeowers moving out are counting on it, keeping all their houses as empty rental properties.

  2. @philg: Some background: in the United States, there are a range of numbers (it depends on whom you believe and why) regarding how many people in the U.S. move and change addresses every year.

    The census bureau says ~8.4 percent.
    The moving industry says ~9.8 percent.
    The US Postal Service says ~7 percent.

    This is averaged across all demographics. I’m sure there exists a more fine-grained analysis that takes income into account but I don’t have it at my fingertips. However, this is why direct mailers are required to run their mailing lists through various address-correction software schemes, including NCOA (National Change of Address.) NCOA is voluntarily reported by the mover. They fill out a form with the US Postal Service. The rest are synthetic guesstimates. My father just texted (fun for “local color”):

    “I can see why it would be higher [than the USPS number] because a lot of people never file moving info with the US Postal Service. The woman who lived up here never did and neither did [name of dude] the thief and his gun moll. And if you add in the illegals the real number is probably closer to 18 percent.”

    You wrote: —> “I think it is interesting from the point of view of journalism that the situation is characterized by rich people disproportionately moving rather than by welfare state beneficiaries disproportionately staying.”

    I concur. Also, a lot of people run from their credit card and other debt by taking the next train out of Dodge and never reporting their new address to either the companies or the US Postal Service. They just up and leave one day for “greener pastures.” Eventually they might show up with a new address via a completely synthetic mechanism. They type it into a web page somewhere and the list gets traded, then the same name pops up again in a different place, etc. but it’s really tough to prove it’s the same “Jane Doe” so to speak.

    I don’t think there has ever been a rigorous study taking all these things into account.

    • Addendum: Also, debt is by no means limited to credit cards and other instruments offered by various “bona fide” financial institutions. Sometimes it’s as simple as: “I borrowed $3,500 from my pal Sal six years ago and never paid him back. And I have a $2,100 bar tab at the local watering hole. And I owe at least six other guys $500. Now they all want to hire a hitman to kill me because Sal’s kid has cancer and the bar owner wants their money. See ya! Bye Sal! You won’t find me in Sausalito!” <—- I'm not exaggerating ENOUGH here. The truth is often stranger than fiction, trust me.

  3. Career advice to my future son: Pick a career where you earn enough so you don’t have to live near poor people.

  4. Well, urban CA is a very attractive place for bums due to relatively mild climate and lots of giveaways.

    Not so much for low and middle class workers. Quite a few of them are trapped in CA – moving elsewhete costs money they don’t have. And the rich don’t care much about where to live, after their portfolios are diversified and stable. Except, of course, when the bums start shitting on their front door steps.

    • My employer just created a new position – Community Outreach Coordinator – to work w/ the local social welfare groups and develop solutions to the homeless problem in our community. I got an earful when I referred to the homeless as vagrants.

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