California Continues its Losing Streak

California's population continued to shrink for a third consecutive year according to the U.S. Census Bureau's population estimates for the year ending July 2022, but business columnist Jonathan Lansner saw glimmers of hope in the data.

3 minute read

January 3, 2023, 8:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid

The San Francisco Bay Area is visible from San Carlos, across the bay to the East Bay. Mount Diablo looms in the background.

Sundry Photography / Shutterstock

The media should stop referring to California as “nearly 40 million people” considering the state recorded its third consecutive year of population loss according to U.S. Census data. California had a population of 39,029,342 on July 1, 2022, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Vintage 2022 national and state population estimates and components of change released Dec. 22, 2022.

Table 1 of the release indicates that the nation's most populous state had 39,142, 991 residents on July 1, 2021, resulting in a loss of 113,649 people or –0.29 percent for the 12 months ending in July 2022, the second highest after New York (–180,341 or –0.9 percent) according to Table 4. The nation's population increased by 0.4%, or 1,256,003, to 333,287,557 people.

[Planetizen exclusiveU.S. Population Growing Again in 2022 After Flatlining in 2021, Dec. 27, 2022]

Table 1 also shows California's population (estimate) was 39,538,245 on April 1, 2020, which amounts to a loss of 395,254 residents in the 15 months to July 1, 2021.

[Related Planetizen headlines post: Two Demographic Firsts, Both Losses, for California, May 10, 2021 (based on state data, not Census data). The New York Times reported on May 4, 2022 on the second year of population decline based on state data: “Slowing State Population Decline Puts Latest Population at 39,185,000” [pdf, May 2, 2022].

First year of Population Loss

What's not clear from the Census release is the population change from 2019 to 2020, though William Frey of the Brookings Institution noted a year ago in his analysis of the 12-month period from July 1, 2020 through July 1, 2021 that the population loss from 2019 to 2020 was -69,532. [See “Table 1. States with population declines, 2018-19, 2019-20, 2020-21”].

In addition, an email from the Census Bureau's Public Information Office on December 30 confirmed the three years of population losses.

As shown in the following table, utilizing those Vintage 2020 estimates and the new Vintage 2022 estimates and calculating change over time from each July 1 to the next shows that California has indeed declined for the last three years. 

Population table from U.S. Census Bureau

Domestic Migration is Key Metric

“The big drag on California’s population was that 343,230 more residents departed for other states than new neighbors arrived in the past year, the biggest 'net outmigration' among the states,” wrote Southern California News Group business columnist Jonathan Lansner for The Mercury News (source article—subscription only) on Dec. 27.

But Lansner found evidence that the state's population-losing streak may be on the wane by looking beyond the actual net population loss due to residents leaving the state for greener pastures, considering that 17 other states saw population losses.

The net outflow fell by 115,721 over 12 months, the biggest improvement nationwide.

In fact, “California’s 2022 drop was a 245,013 improvement over 2021’s 358,662 loss. No state had a larger variance in the one-year change,” added Lansner.

Housing the Culprit

H.D. Palmer, deputy director of external affairs at the California Department of Finance which produces its own demographic data (see aforementioned report dated May 2, 2022: “Slowing State Population Decline Puts Latest Population at 39,185,000” [pdf]) agreed "that net growth was in the future," reported Ariane Lange for the Sacramento Bee on Dec. 23.

[T]he population decline also partly reflects failures in state policy: California is in a housing affordability crisis.

“If you talk to demographers, they’ll say that one of the factors is the cost of housing,” Palmer said. “And that’s continued to be a challenging issue for the state.”

Tuesday, December 27, 2022 in The Mercury News

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