After years of declining rates of population growth, California slipped into negative growth in 2020–a first in the history of the state. California ended 2020 with 189,083 fewer residents than it began, the Los Angeles Times reports based on newly released Census figures.
Officials attributed some of the population loss to factors specific to 2020, including unusually low rates of both new births and immigration, and the deaths of more than 61,000 Californians due to COVID-19. A California Department of Finance spokesperson told the Times that the population number is expected to grow again in 2021.
Despite the specific challenges presented last year, California’s decades-long population swell was already slowing beforehand–and that larger trend may be based on factors that won’t immediately switch back when the pandemic finally ends.
For many, the decision to move out of California appears to be motivated by affordability, particularly in the state’s urban areas. Data indicates that the bulk of residents leaving the state are those considered to be “middle” or “lower” income earners, with the majority citing “jobs” or “housing” as their reason for leaving the state.
“The larger picture painted by these trends illustrates the economic challenges faced by many lower- and middle-income Californians,” reads a report on population trends from the Public Policy Institute of California. “The state’s high cost of living, driven almost solely by comparatively high housing costs, remains an ongoing public policy challenge—one that needs resolution if the state is to be a place of opportunity for all of its residents.”
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