SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area both lost populations during the pandemic, according to new data released Friday, as the nation’s most populous state saw only its second year-over-year decline.
California estimates its population twice a year. The first report published in May estimates the population for the previous calendar year. The second report, released in December, estimates the population for the previous fiscal year ending June 30th.
California reported its first annual population decline back in May when the state said it had lost 182,083 people in 2020. On Friday, the state said it lost 173,000 people between July 1, 2020 and July 1, 2021.
The latest estimate confirms that California’s once seemingly limitless population growth has come to an end. It also shows that Los Angeles County and the nine counties surrounding San Francisco Bay lost population for the first time simultaneously in the same year. Together, these two areas make up more than 44% of the state’s nearly 40 million residents and have some of the most expensive house prices in the country.
Los Angeles County lost 67,500 people to lose nearly 10 million residents. The Bay Area’s nine counties, which together have about 7.7 million people, lost about 64,000 people.
California has 10 counties with at least 1 million residents, and seven of them have lost population. That includes San Diego County, which lost 15,000 people in its first reported annual decline. Central Valley counties near San Francisco Bay reported population increases, including Fresno, Placer, Merced, and Tulare.
“I don’t think that’s entirely surprising,” said Walter Schwarm, California’s chief demographer. “People are trading their commute for a level of housing they couldn’t or couldn’t even buy in the Bay Area.”
California’s population growth seemed limitless for almost its entire existence. It surpassed other western territories when it became a state in 1850, fueled by the discovery of gold in the Sierra Nevada foothills, which attracted hundreds of thousands of settlers while accelerating the decline in the native population.
This began a phase of intense growth that lasted more than a century as the state found prosperity in the years after World War II and again after the technology boom in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
But that growth has slowed significantly in recent years, until California lost a congressional seat for the first time in its history this spring because it has not grown as fast as other states over the past decade. The state’s congressional delegation now has 52 members, still the majority in the country.
State officials blame the decline on a falling birth rate, a decline in international migration and the increased deaths associated with the coronavirus. Schwarm said he anticipates California growing again at some point, perhaps exceeding 40 million people by the middle of the decade.
“I don’t think we are in a period of long decline,” he said.
Critics blame California’s high cost of living and increasing crime. The average price of a single family home is nearly $ 800,000, making home ownership inaccessible to many while driving up rental prices. A home industry has sprung up helping people leave California for other states.
“When you can’t afford to live comfortably or feel unsafe, it is an important factor in the quality of life,” said Tom Lackey, a Republican from Palmdale. “You have been compromised, at least in part, because of the public order.”
The California government is Democrat-run, and Republicans have routinely pointed out the falling population as evidence that people are fleeing the state in droves because they are frustrated with state politics. But new research from the University of California’s bipartisan California Policy Lab suggests the problem is fewer people from other states are moving to California instead of leaving.
The number of people moving to California from other states has decreased by 38% since the pandemic began, the California Policy Lab reported this week. The number of people leaving California for other states has increased by 12% over the same period, in line with pre-pandemic trends, according to researchers.
Taken together, researchers say California’s population loss due to internal migration has more than doubled since the pandemic began in March 2020.
The San Francisco Bay Area is hardest hit by this trend. According to Evan White, executive director of the California Policy Lab at the University of California-Berkeley, 45% fewer people from other states moved to the Bay Area in late September than in early 2020.
“Public attention has focused on what is known as the ‘CalExodus’ phenomenon, but the reality is that the dramatic decline in ‘CalEntrances’ since the start of the pandemic has been a more important contributor to recent population changes in the state,” said Natalie Holmes, a research fellow at the California Policy Lab and co-author of its most recent report.