California Halts Three Years of Population Loss

The Golden State grew by 67,000 people, or 0.17%, last year, to just over 39.1 million on Jan. 1, 2024, according to a demographic report released April 30 by the California Department of Finance.

3 minute read

May 16, 2024, 8:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

California State Capital

Sacramento, California. | cmshepard / Shutterstock

“For the first time since 2020, California has once again experienced positive population growth in 2023: driven by decreased mortality and a rebound in legal foreign immigration,” reads the first sentence of a 20-page report [pdf] released by the Demographic Research Unit of the California Department of Finance on April 30.

The report points to three reasons for the  population reversal, albeit a very small increase in population:

  • Legal immigration increased by 26% from 2022,  resulting in a net gain of over 114,000 new residents.
  • Natural increase [births minus deaths] increased as COVID deaths declined, resulting in an 11% increase from last year, an addition of nearly 12,000 children.
  • “Greater domestic in-migration and slowed domestic out-migration,” i.e., the California exodus continues, but at a reduced rate.

“California’s net migration in 2023, taking into account those who come and those who leave, dropped in two years to roughly a quarter of its 2021 rate, the report shows,” wrote Bay Area News Group reporters Julia Prodis Sulek and Harriet Blair Rowan in a subscription-only article for The Mercury News on May 1. "That includes a 28% drop in the actual number of Californians who left the state, according to the Department of Finance.”

Walter Schwarm [pdf], the Department of Finance’s chief demographer, described last year as a return to the 'old normal' before the pandemic, with deaths lessening as the pandemic eased and fewer people moving out of the state," reported Roland Li for the San Francisco Chronicle on April 30.

Not Census data

It was only a month ago when Planetizen posted, “California Exodus: Population Drops Below 39 Million,” which noted the state's population as of July 1, 2023, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The U.S. Census Bureau and the California Department of Finance determine population estimates differently. Sulek and Rowan explain:

The state Department of Finance uses the decennial federal census, combined with records for births, deaths, and people moving to make annual population estimates for California’s counties and cities for planning and the appropriation of funds. The state’s population estimates are for Jan, 1 of each year, while the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual estimates are for July 1 of each year.

Not enough to stem loss of congressional districts

California's congressional districts dropped by one to 52 in 2022 in the reapportionment following the 2020 Census. Related posts and blog:

Eric McGhee, senior fellow for the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonprofit state think tank, told The Associated Press on April 30, “It would still, at this rate, not be enough to probably avoid losing more congressional districts in the 2030 census.”


Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton, whose April 8 column, “Why Californians are fleeing this once-Golden State,” resulted in the Planetizen tag, California exodus, gets the last word

“It was bound to end,” he wrote on April 15, two weeks before the official release from the Department of Finance.

This is California, after all. Losing population defies our history. Now we’re back growing again.

He goes on to explain the reasons behind the turnaround in the growth data, as minor as it was. Watch for future posts tagged California population.

Tuesday, April 30, 2024 in California Department of Finance

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