Trends: California's population drops for second straight year

Santiago Mejia/San Francisco Chronicle via AP, Pool, File

In our latest edition of “Escape from New York” shifts to “Escape from Los Angeles,” the latest analysis of yearly census data in California has been compiled. The news for California is once again not optimal, with the Golden State showing a net decrease in population in 2021. While slightly slower than in 2020, this marks two years in a row where the state’s total population has decreased. The real reason for this trend is a bone of contention among media analysts and scientists, but the final numbers appear solid. California has bled off residents for a variety of reasons, but the total number of net people lost is still well into six figures. (Daily Wire)

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.

34 out of 58 counties in California recorded a net decrease in population. One of the biggest trends was seen in the cities, with 361 cities seeing population loss, while 118 saw a net increase. The areas recording stable or increasing population were almost entirely in the interior, less urban areas.

What what was driving this? It depends on who you ask. The report offers a number of possibilities without all that many specifics. COVID was clearly a factor, with the decrease being lower in 2021 (after the vaccines were becoming widely available) than in 2020 when hospitalizations and deaths were through the roof. But emigration was also listed as a root cause. More legally registered residents moved away than moved to the state. California is an extremely expensive place to live and modest average wage increases do not make up for that. The crime rates are obviously another factor. A lot of people have thrown up their hands and just given up on “California Dreaming.” (There’s an obscure musical reference for our older readers.)

Getting back to the immigration versus emigration question, there is almost certainly some missing data in this analysis. Yes, a lot of legal residents left voluntarily. But illegal aliens resumed flowing into the state in vast numbers in 2021 after seeing a significant drop in 2020 because of pandemic travel restrictions and closed borders. It’s possible that the total loss isn’t quite as great as these numbers suggest, but that’s only because we can’t track accurate numbers of how many illegal aliens entered the state last year and how many of those remained and are still living there today.

California lost a congressional seat after the 2020 census for the first time. If this trend continues, they may lose another after 2030. The beneficiaries of these migrational shifts are clear, with states such as Florida and Texas reaping the rewards. Certainly part of this has been driven by the pandemic, wildfires, and other uncontrollable factors. But a lot of people are also simply choosing to leave. Perhaps California’s elected officials should ask themselves why.