‘I genuinely didn’t know what a break was when I moved to California’
Noah Sheidlower | Contributor
Matthew, 38, was working in northeast Tennessee as an orderly at a hospital when he realized he could live a less stressful, more lucrative life in another state doing the same work.
Matthew — whose identity is known to Business Insider and requested partial anonymity for privacy reasons — and his wife, who is also a registered nurse, decided that California would be the ideal destination. California would give him paid family leave, mandatory breaks and lunches, and better overtime laws. He said the policies of California are a lot more working-class employee friendly than in Tennessee, and since he moved in 2016, he said his work-life balance has been a lot better.
Still, he didn’t want to move to a major city like San Francisco or San Diego with a high cost of living. He settled on a city in central California which had a much lower cost of living but comparable wages for jobs.
“Many that leave California to go to the East Coast or to corporate-friendly states like Texas and Tennessee don’t know any better,” Matthew said. “They were born in California. They don’t know how good they have it.”
Matthew’s move went a little against the grain compared to how many other Americans have been switching states. The California to Tennessee move was one of the more popular routes between 2021 to 2022 at nearly 22,600 movers — though around 5,500 still made the opposite move during the same period, according to US Census data.
Many former Californians are moving to Tennessee for cheaper cost of living, friendlier people, and a slower pace of life. But for Matthew and many other former Tennesseans, California has many more opportunities for workers — and not every part of the state is outrageously expensive.
Not everything is more expensive in California
When he moved in 2016, he said his $295,000 home in California cost about as much as his Tennessee home, though housing has gotten quite a bit more expensive, he said. Though homes cost more per square foot, he said they’re also sturdier due to earthquake standards. He also said housing insurance is actually cheaper in California, and new homes are often renovated and come with new amenities, compared to homes on the market in Tennessee that aren’t as well maintained.
Additionally, he said his home in Tennessee would be frequently reassessed, which would hike up property taxes.
He said that while gas is a lot more expensive in California, he’s also driving a third of the distance to get to work or the grocery store. He also said his water bill is around three times cheaper in California.
He said he’s also willing to pay more in California for dining out as California doesn’t have a tipped minimum wage — in Tennessee, employers can pay tipped employees as little as $2.13 an hour, provided wages and tips together add up to $7.25 an hour. California has an hourly minimum wage of $15.50, which will rise to $16 in 2024.
Though the temperature gets high in central California, he said the low humidity makes summers much more bearable than Tennessee, where humidity sometimes is 100%. He hasn’t once had to scrape frost off his car as he did in Tennessee, and he doesn’t miss the tornadoes or thunderstorms that would sometimes ravage through Tennessee.
He convinced one of his friends to move out to California, though he wishes more of his family would move from Tennessee, citing better healthcare and retirement options. He said contrary to what many believe, his area of California is more laid back than in Tennessee where in his industry, people would skip lunch and fire on all cylinders to get their work done.
California is ‘more working-class friendly’
Matthew didn’t want to work as a nurse in Tennessee where nurse-to-patient ratios are low, meaning he’d have to work longer hours with few breaks and not enough pay. California requires one nurse for every two intensive or critical care patients for instance, while Tennessee does not have state laws for these ratios.
California had all sorts of policies and laws in place to protect registered nurses, including state-funded temporary disability coverage and paid baby bonding leave for up to six weeks. California also has daily overtime laws in addition to double-time pay for working over 12 hours a day, compared to weekly overtime laws in Tennessee.
Matthew was in a car accident a few years ago in California and was out on leave for 60 days for physical therapy, and he said he made the same amount he would’ve made working due to the state’s temporary disability paid for by state taxes.
“If you’re in a car accident and can’t work in Tennessee, and you didn’t take out your own individual policy from an individual insurance company that has temporary disability, you’re probably going to go bankrupt because there’s nothing to protect you.”
Additionally, he recalled how he was shocked his employers in California forced him to take a 30-minute lunch break and two other 15-minute breaks or else they would get penalized per state laws. He said one of his friends’ offices has an alarm that goes off whenever it’s time for somebody to take a break.
While the process for approving to transfer his Tennessee nursing license in California was slow, Matthew said they moved as soon as they were approved, noting how California is “everything I thought it would be as far as being employee friendly.”
His area of central California has five different hospitals, compared to just one hospital system in northeast Tennessee.
“In California, you’ve got nurses that actually get their breaks most of the time, you’ve got nurse to patient ratios, so that makes the work culture better because not everybody’s exhausted,” Matthew said. “I genuinely didn’t know what a break was when I moved to California.”
Moving to California has also made Matthew feel more economically secure about his long-term future. At his job in California, he gets a 6% 401(k) match in addition to company-funded guaranteed amount retirement pensions, compared to just 3% company matching at his job in Tennessee. He also said pay increases at his current role are a lot less arbitrary and more performance-based.
“It’s absolutely where I want to stay, unless there’s some miracle where Tennessee changes to be more employee friendly, which I don’t see ever happening,” Matthew said.
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