CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — Have you seen more license plates from states like California, or its neighbor to the north, Oregon, on West Virginia’s country roads lately? It turns out, even from the other side of the country, Californians have noticed it too.
An Orange County, California daily newspaper, The Orange County Register, published an op-ed Tuesday called “Don’t look now, but Californians are West Virginia dreamin’.”
The term references the 1965 “The Mamas & the Papas” hit, but the article comes on strong, saying that “In 2023, the California dream is on life support.”
U.S. Census data estimates that California’s population decreased by an estimated 508,903 residents between April 2020 and July 2022; second only to New York, which lost slightly more during the same period—an estimated 524,079.
But with 49 other states to choose from, why West Virginia? The state was actually the 13th most popular moving destination for those who used United Van Lines in 2022.
The article’s author, Brad Lips, who is CEO of Atlas Network, which is a partner of Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy, has some ideas.
Affordability and Opportunity
Lips cites that West Virginia is one of the country’s most affordable states.
Forbes Home lists West Virginia as the ninth cheapest state to live in 2023, and one of the most affordable places to buy a home, with the average single-family home costing $117,639, or 21.4% below the national average. Other pros included that West Virginia gets all four seasons, and of course, its beautiful Appalachian landscape.
But what about opportunity? While that Forbes study lists a “challenging job market” and high poverty rates as cons to moving to West Virginia, U.S. News & World Report still ranked the state as number 18 in opportunity. While West Virginia ranked 47th in economic opportunity, it ranked 8th in affordability and 4th in equality. West Virginia performed higher in that ranking than popular moving destinations like Texas and Florida.
Lips points to Republican Gov. Jim Justice’s high approval rating to suggest that West Virginians support recent policies like tax cuts and school choice.
A recent Morning Consult study found that Justice was the fifth-most popular governor in the country with an approval rating of 64%. California Gov. Gavin Newsome (D) ranked toward the middle of the pack at 55% after voters attempted to recall him two years ago. Former Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) had the lowest approval rating at the time of the Jan. 12, 2023 study, at 35%. She has since been replaced by Democrat Tina Kotek. The most popular governor was Vermont’s Phill Scott (R) with an 81% approval rating.
Other studies, like one released by WalletHub earlier this month, have found that while California residents get the worst return on investment for their taxes in the nation, West Virginia ranks 13th. Other states that WalletHub ranked lower than West Virginia included Hawaii, New Mexico, Arkansas, Delaware, Connecticut, Vermont, Oregon, Louisiana, New York, Mississippi and North Dakota.