California's population declined last year for the first time ever

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File

The AP is reporting this afternoon that California just announced its first year-over-year population decline in the state’s history. Los Angeles lost the most people in raw numbers.

California’s population fell by more than 182,000 people in 2020, marking the first year-over-year loss ever recorded for the nation’s most populous state…

The state four most populated cities — Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose and San Francisco — lost a combined 88,000 people. LA dropped the most at nearly 52,000 and has now lost about 75,000 people in the last three years to fall to an overall population of just over 3.9 million.

More people left California for other states than moved here, continuing a trend for decades that has prompted criticism of the state’s high taxes and progressive politics. But state officials say 2020 was an anomaly as the coronavirus pandemic halted international immigration and killed 51,000 people.

The pandemic certainly played a role in these numbers but even before that, California’s population growth was creeping along very slowly. In 2019, the LA Times noted the growth rate was the lowest seen in 100 years.

The estimates, which indicate that California’s population grew by 141,300 people between July 1, 2018, and July 1, 2019, nonetheless signal a 0.35% growth rate, “down from 0.57% for the prior 12 months — the two lowest recorded growth rates since 1900,” department officials underscored.

Last year’s numbers, only about half of which were impacted by COVID were even lower:

The California Department of Finance, which monitors the state’s population data, found that from July 1, 2019 to July 1, 2020, California saw a net gain of only 21,200 new residents — a 0.05% growth rate not seen since 1900. As of July, the state’s population was 39.78 million.

So, putting those growth rates in chronological order they were 0.57%, 0.35% and 0.05%. That looks like a trend. But a spokesman for the state said there would be a rebound next year:

“As the pandemic recedes and with changes in federal immigration policy, we expect to return to more normal immigration trends into California from other countries,” said H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the Department of Finance. “All of which means that by the time we do this same projection 12 months from now, we expect that 2021 will show a return to a slightly positive growth rate.”

Maybe we will see that but if the decline is partly the fault of COVID, the return to growth could be too. The economic downturn caused by the pandemic/lockdowns has also brought about a decline in rent in major cities like San Francisco. That may tempt some people to stick around or to move here from elsewhere but those declines probably won’t last much longer. As the economy comes back so will high rent, traffic congestion, high taxes and all of the other things that motivate a lot of people to leave the state. We’ll just have to wait and see how things look next year.