California’s Population Declines For The 2nd Year In A Row
OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 9: Governor Gavin Newsom speaks at a press conference on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022, in Oakland, Calif. Newsom signed legislation to extend COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave for workers and bolster Californias support for small businesses. (Aric Crabb/MediaNews Group/East Bay Times via Getty Images)
Aric Crabb/MediaNews Group/East Bay Times via Getty Images

The population of the State of California has declined for the second consecutive year, according to new data released by the state.

The California Department of Finance said in a report Monday that the state’s population declined by 117,552 residents in the year 2021, bringing the state’s total population to 39,185,605 people as of January 1, 2022. But that population decline of about 0.3% was also a significant slowdown from 2020, when the state population declined by about 0.59% between the April 2020 Census date and the end of the year, the Department of Finance said.

The report noted that much of the state’s “plateauing” population growth was due to a continuing slowdown in natural increase. “As Baby Boomers age, and fertility declines among younger cohorts, the continuing slowdown in natural increase — births minus deaths — underlies the plateauing of the state’s population growth,” the report said. Other factors included COVID-19 deaths, federal immigration restrictions, and residents migrating out-of-state.

The majority of California counties, 34 out of 58, lost population over the course of 2021. The largest decreases came from Plumas County, which lost 3.2% of its population, Lassen County, which lost 2.8%, and Butte County, which lost 2.4%. Notably, San Francisco County lost 0.8% of its population.

California’s three most populous counties also experienced losses: Los Angeles County lost 0.7% of its population, about 70,000 people; San Diego County lost about 1,200 residents, 0.04%; and Orange County lost about 7,300 people, 0.2%.

Only two counties, Yolo and San Benito, had population gains above 1%. The state reported that Yolo County’s gains were due to college dormitories, while San Benito’s were due to new housing. Most individual cities also lost population: 361 cities saw population declines, while 118 saw gains, and 3 saw no change.

Where population did increase, it was mostly in the interior part of the state. Population growth “remained strong in the interior counties of the Central Valley and the Inland Empire,” the report said, but every coastal county lost population except three: San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz.

The report noted, however, that gains in those counties were at least partially due to college students returning to campus post-COVID-19. In fact, the state reported that California’s dormitory population declined by 45%, or about 109,000 people, during the pandemic. Dormitory population have since returned to 98.9% of 2020 Census levels, with about 240,000 students living in dormitories, “restor[ing] the populations in many college towns.”

“To a certain extent, we have two or three things happening here — the pandemic is there in the sense that natural increase, it really slowed down over these two years. Some of that is a lack of births because of delayed child-bearing decisions,” Department of Finance Chief Demographer Walter Schwarm told the Los Angeles Times. “Things are getting a little better, fertility is coming back after the pandemic.”

California experienced the first population decline in the history of the state in 2020. The state’s population declined by 182,000 between 2020 and 2021, the Associated Press reported at the time. The AP also reported at the time that California had been experiencing a net-negative migration in recent years, as more residents moved out of the state than in. That slowdown in growth also cost the state a seat in the House of Representatives, also a first. California’s population currently sits at just over 39 million people.

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