SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – California’s population fell by more than 182,000 last year, the first annual loss on record for the nation’s most populous state that ended a streak of growth dating from its founding in 1850 on the heels of a gold rush that caused a flood of people to seek their fortune in the West.
The figures released Friday follow last week’s US Census Bureau announcement that California would lose a seat in Congress. for the first time because it has grown more slowly than other states over the past decade. Yet California’s population of just under 39.5 million and the soon-to-be 52-member congressional delegation remains by far the largest.
California’s population has grown and slowed in the decades since its founding, with notable increases after WWII and the tech boom of the ’80s and’ 90s that put Silicon Valley on the map.
In recent years, more people have moved from California to other states than there, a trend Republicans say is the result of high state taxes and progressive politics. The average selling price of a single-family home in California hit a record high of $ 758,990 in March, a 23.9% increase from a year ago.
“The numbers don’t lie. People are leaving our state because it is not affordable to live here ”, a tweeté Kevin Faulconer, the former mayor of San Diego and one of the Republican candidates hoping to overthrow Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom in the recall election scheduled for this year.
But the Newsom administration says California’s population decline is an outlier, blaming it on the coronavirus pandemic that turned everything upside down in 2020.
California has consistently lost people to other states for years. From 2010 to 2020, about 6.1 million people left for other states and only 4.9 million arrived from other parts of the country, according to an analysis of census data by the Public Policy Institute of California.
But the influx of international immigrants and the births exceeding the deaths have always been enough to overcome this loss. That changed in 2020.
In a typical year, California could accommodate between 140,000 and 150,000 people from other countries. In 2020, there were only 29,000 people – a direct impact, according to state officials, of the Trump administration’s suspension of new visas for much of the year.
Global lockdowns due to the coronavirus have resulted in a 29% drop in the number of international students coming to California, or about 53,000 people.
Births continued their steady decline, reflecting a national trend. But deaths have skyrocketed as the coronavirus killed 51,000 people in California last year, a 19% increase in the state’s death rate from the previous three-year average.
“Without last year’s pandemic, we could have a very different conversation today,” said Walter Schwarm, the chief demographer of California.
Deaths were most pronounced in the state’s most populous cities, including Los Angeles, which has seen a 27% increase from its three-year average. Overall, Los Angeles lost nearly 52,000 people, the third consecutive year of decline that brought its population to just over 3.9 million.
Eric McGhee, senior researcher at the Public Policy Institute in California, said the state’s population decline was “largely a function of the pandemic.” He says the state will likely return to its slow growth trend this year as things return to normal.
But he said the underlying issues driving this slow growth will remain, including a housing shortage that is pushing prices to an all-time high. A recent PPIC analysis of census data showed that people who move to California earn more money and have a higher level of education than people who move.
“The thing that policymakers have the most control over is probably creating an environment where life is affordable,” he said.
The state’s four most populous cities – Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco – lost a total of 88,000 people in 2020. Meanwhile, major inland cities including Sacramento, Fresno and Bakersfield added population, evidence of people fleeing expensive city shores to live less.
Population estimates released last week by the US Census Bureau showed paltry growth in California. But those numbers show California’s population as of April 2020. The state’s figures released Friday reflect California’s population as of January 2021.
The state’s population estimate comes from a number of sources, including the number of births and deaths, the number of new driver’s licenses and changes of address, school enrollments and federal income tax returns.