State Watch

California records first annual population decrease in state history

California's population declined last year, marking the first time the nation's largest state has registered a drop since it joined the Union in 1850.

The state's Department of Finance said in a report Friday that California's population stood at 39,466,855 as of Jan. 1, down 182,083 from the prior year, a growth rate of minus 0.46 percent.

More Californians died in 2020 than were born, even before factoring in the 51,000 Golden State residents who died from COVID-19.

The state also received 100,000 fewer immigrants than in 2019, a drop the Finance Department attributed to federal policy under the Trump administration.

"In recent years, the slowdown in natural increase - a nationwide trend affecting California more than other states - has contributed to the state's population growth slowing and plateauing," the department said in a statement. "The addition of 2020's Covid-19-related deaths, combined with immigration restrictions in the past year, tipped population change to an annual loss."

Population growth in California, as in the rest of the nation, remains uneven: The number of residents in the Sacramento Valley and the Inland Empire has risen in recent years, while the most populace regions have seen their numbers decline.

Los Angeles County has lost residents for three consecutive years, including a drop of almost 1 percent last year. San Francisco's population dropped by 1.7 percent, and San Jose lost 1.1 percent of its population. San Diego, Long Beach and Anaheim all lost residents, while inland cities like Fresno and Sacramento gained.

The figures give statistical evidence to anecdotal observations about those fleeing the Bay Area and Los Angeles, either for other low-tax states or for less expensive areas inland.

California's population grew during the last decade by 6.1 percent, up by more than 2.2 million residents. But that growth rate was not significant enough for the state to maintain its 53-seat congressional delegation. California will lose a seat in the House of Representatives in next year's midterm elections for the first time in its history.

For a century and a half, California's population has ballooned, first as a destination for the gold-seeking 49ers, then as a booming hub of America's bread basket and finally as the cultural and technological havens of Hollywood and Silicon Valley. The state's population grew by more than 50 percent five times in decennial censuses between 1860 and 1950 and by more than 25 percent in three of the last seven census periods.

But high costs of living, rising taxes and more recently a growing housing crisis have forced some residents to consider moving elsewhere. U.S. Census Bureau data from last year showed about 653,000 Californians moved to other states, led by Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Washington and Oregon.

At the same time, those figures show nearly 500,000 Americans moved to California. The most significant populations moved there from New York, Texas, Illinois, Arizona and Nevada. California attracted almost 250,000 residents from abroad in 2019, according to Census Bureau figures.

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