California's big cities are shrinking

California's big cities are shrinking

Last year the state of California announced its first population decline in state history. Yesterday, newly published census data showed there have been significant population declines in major US cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco.

In terms of total numbers, Los Angeles County lost about 160,000 residents — more than any other county in the nation, the data show. But L.A. County has about 10 million people, so the per capita loss was slightly more than 1% compared with 6.7% in San Francisco and 6.9% in New York.

“We are in this new demographic era for California of very slow or maybe even negative growth,” said Hans Johnson, a demographer with the Public Policy Institute of California…

Nearly all of the state’s population loss was driven by domestic migration, data show, meaning most people who are leaving are choosing to go — often seeking more affordable housing and job opportunities, or moving with family.

As mentioned, San Francisco is a much smaller city but saw much higher losses as a percentage.

From July 2020 to July 2021, San Francisco’s population decreased by an estimated 6.3%, losing nearly 55,000 people in that time frame. San Mateo County was fourth, with its population decreasing 3.2% and a loss of nearly 25,000 people…

Jeff Bellisario, executive director of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, told The Chronicle in an email that the Census Bureau data confirms patterns the organization has been tracking over the course of the pandemic.

“Remote work options combined with a high cost of living in the Bay Area have been the major factors contributing to a falling population in many parts of the region,” he wrote…

“Affordability and quality of life issues remain huge challenges for San Francisco on its road to full population recovery,” he said. “Employment numbers are also showing San Francisco’s jobs recovery moves more slowly than the rest of the nation, which does not bode well for future population growth.”

There was some additional data last December which showed it’s not just that people are leaving California. It’s also that fewer people are moving here. The timing of all of this, July 2020 to July 2021, is clearly timed to the pandemic. As people were moving toward remote work from home, the necessity of being in a big city and paying a big mortgage declined. But obviously the pandemic was happening everywhere, so people choosing to move out the state weren’t looking to flee the pandemic so much as the pandemic provided them with a natural inflection point to flee the city (and the state).

Between the wildfires, the high taxes and cost of living, the homeless camps and the fact that gas is at least $1 more here than almost anywhere else in the country, it’s a miracle the population decline in California’s big cities has been so small. But that could also change. Rents were down in 2020 which may have kept some people hanging on but they’re back up now along with $6 a gallon gas. Here’s a local news report from SoCal about the ongoing exodus featuring a guy who moved to South Carolina and is amazed by the house he could afford there. I’d be willing to bet a lot of LA residents who saw this on their TV’s yesterday are thinking about moving today.

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