For Population, L.A. County's Loss Is The Inland Empire's Gain

Published on July 4th, 2017

The Skyline of Riverside

Scott Beyer
June 30, 2017

Population shifts in America are often very specific, boiling down to nuances about policy, place and demographics–in other words, things besides just the weather.

Certain metros, thanks in many cases to their ingrained attitudes, either decline or stagnate. And other metros, thanks to their attitudes, become receiving grounds for displaced populations. To name some macro examples, many people move from California to Texas, and from New York to Florida, because of their differing tax and regulatory policies. This occurs between cities, too, as many Chicagoans are, for similar reasons, moving to Atlanta and other "New South" cities.

Population shifts can also be intrastate phenomenons, with one example being in California. Certain policies that prevent Los Angeles from achieving livability for all have driven people to the state's Inland Empire, about 2 hours to the east.

According to Census figures, America's largest county-to-county population shift between 2007 and 2011 occurred out of Los Angeles County, and into San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, with 35,000 more people moving there than in the opposite direction. The L.A.-to-Inland numbers were even more stark between 2000 and 2006, sitting at a whopping 300,000. The Inland Empire is now one of the nation's fastest-growing economies as a result, and Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario is now America's 13th-largest MSA, ahead of Seattle, San Diego and Denver.

Although it may be the case in some circumstances, this growth isn't because people are just dying to live in the Inland Empire. According to Trulia's real estate heat maps, the strongest demand throughout greater SoCal remains for land closest to the Pacific Ocean.

Rather, a climate of Nimbyism and regulation in Los Angeles has–similar to how I described in a recent article about San Francisco—inflated housing prices and pushed people east.

To put a finer point on it: people who enjoy accessing the jobs, culture and geography of Los Angeles, but can't afford the housing there, instead "drive until they qualify," to the nearest locale that has a similar vibe at prices they can afford. Riverside, where median home prices are $350,000 (compared to $566,000 in L.A. County), and San Bernardino, where they are $253,000, both fill this need.

"Los Angeles,” said USC demographer Dowell Myers to the Los Angeles Times,  “is a giant pump that pulls in people from other countries and all across America, then recirculates them." Living costs are a major reason why.
There are different types of areas from within the Inland Empire that migrants can settle. The counties of San Bernardino and Riverside extend east all the way to the Arizona border, meaning large stretches are remote desert. A lot of the land along their far western portion is old farms that have been subdivided into suburban tract housing. Even the two counties' namesake cities are very different.

One thing that makes California such an anomaly within America is that it's poorest cities are actually some of its fastest-growing. San Bernardino–along with Fresno and Stockton–is an example. The city went bankrupt several years ago, median household income there is $39,000, and the poverty level is 30%.

The downtown area, and many surrounding neighborhoods, are run-down.


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