A New Demographic Surprise for California: Population Loss (published 2021) (2023)


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State data released on Friday showed that California's population declined in 2020, reflecting a decades-long pattern of slow growth.

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    (Video) A New Demographic Surprise for California Population Loss

A New Demographic Surprise for California: Population Loss (published 2021) (1)

SACRAMENTO - For the first time in more than a centuryCaliforniaposted a net loss onPopulationlast year, a demographic shift caused by the number of deaths from the coronavirus and falling immigration and birth rates.

The small but surprising 0.46 percent drop, a drop from 182,083 Californians in 2020, or the equivalent of about two Santa Barbaras, was reported by the state's Treasury Department on Friday. Most of the loss appeared to occur in the second half of 2020, during the worst of the pandemic, and after the April 2020 census cut-off date.

HD Palmer, the department's spokesman, said the state's growth is likely to pick up as the pandemic recedes and last year's surge in deaths from Covid-19 is no longer a factor.

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"We'll be back, maybe not with blistering growth rates, but at least slightly positive growth," said Palmer, who has advised California's last four governors on fiscal and budgetary policy.

"As more and more gunshots get into the arms of more Californians, deaths from Covid will continue to decline and we should also start to see the impact of any change in immigration policy," he added. "So if we do the same estimate next year, our demographers expect that we'll be back to a slightly positive growth rate by 2021."

Still, the decline was a reality check for the nation's most populous state.


In both the census and other studies of who's moving in and out of the state, it's been clear for some time that booming growth since the gold rush has been a central feature of California's identityleveled off in the 21st century.

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"This is a sea change," said Hans Johnson, senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California. "Of course there's the asterisk, the impact of the pandemic, but the bigger picture that California is now a slow-growing state isn't going away."

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census numbersreleased last monthshowed some of the effects of the slowdown. For the first time in its 170-year history, California will lose a seat in Congress as new population figures from the 2020 census reduce the House delegation to 52 members.

But census data showed that California was still growing, just not as fast as the rest of the country. Data showing a population decline in 2020, released Friday as part of the state's regular economic reports, offered a glimpse of trends in the state beyond the census.

Palmer said the contraction was the first recorded by the state since 1900, when California began collecting population numbers.

Government data showed that the population had decreased from 39,648,994 in January 2020 to 39,466,917 in January 2021. Preliminary figures showed that the population continued to grow during the first few months of the pandemic, but the number of Californians fell sharply after July.

Palmer said more than half of that drop, about 100,000 people, was the result of federal policies blocking international immigration and global lockdowns imposed to slow the pandemic, including restrictions on H-1B and other visas during Trump's last year. Administration.

International student enrollment in the state, for example, fell 29 percent last year, Palmer said, as California colleges and universities switched to distance learning. About 53,000 fewer international students moved to the state last year, he said.

However, internal migration also played a role. For the past three decades, more people have left California than relocated each year. The pandemic has amplified that trend over the past year, Palmer said, particularly prompting new employees to work remotely and delay moves they might otherwise have made to California.

ACurrent Analysis2020 Census data, conducted by Mr. Johnson at the California Public Policy Institute, found that those who relocate are “more likely to be of working age, to be employed and earn high wages, and to be less likely to live in poverty — than those who do moving.” Numerically, however, the analysis found that 4.9 million people moved to California from other parts of the country, while 6.1 million Californians moved to other states.


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Within the state, work-from-home and distance learning opportunities also redistributed Californians, shifting the population from the coasts to the inland counties in the past year. One of those inland counties, San Joaquin County in the Central Valley, grew 1.3 percent last year, or more than 10,000 residents. Another inland county in the Sierra Nevada foothills, Placer County, gained nearly 6,000 residents and grew 1.5 percent.

The population was also tragically lost to the pandemic, which increased California's overall death rate by 19 percent in 2020. It claimed about 51,000 more lives than normal last year, based on the state's three-year average, Palmer said, which includes more than 17,000 excess deaths in Los Angeles County, where the death rate was 27 percent higher than last year's average.

Fueled by Covid-19, death rates rose in 51 of the state's 58 counties, with a dozen reporting increases of 20 percent or more. In Imperial County, on the border with Mexico, deaths were 62 percent higher than usual last year. San Bernardino and Riverside counties in southern California's Inland Empire each reported more than 4,000 deaths above their usual loss.

declining birth rates-- a statewide trend that was particularly acute in California -- also slowed natural population growth by about 24,000, Palmer said.

The median age of first birth in California has risen from 28 to 31 since 2010 as women delay childbirth because of better job prospects, higher cost of living and higher levels of education in the state. Fertility rates, defined as births per 1,000 women of childbearing age, have fallen in California since 2010 by more than double the national average.

Johnson said the apparent change was unlike the contractions that had occurred in other parts of the country.

"California is not a rust belt," Johnson said. “We don't have any houses that are empty and have to be demolished. We don't have central parts of our cities that go back to nature or parks because nobody lives there. It's a very different kind of population loss than other parts of the country."

But, he said, high house prices and income disparities that seem to shut out the state's middle class will affect not just California but the rest of the country.

"It could be," he said, "that California will be a benchmark again. Maybe this is California leading again, in a new and different way."


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