California’s population continued to drop in 2021 after declining for the first time on record during the COVID pandemic, according to data released by the state Department of Finance on Monday.
The Golden State’s population decreased by 117,552 residents between Jan. 1, 2021 and Jan. 1, 2022, bringing the estimated total population to 39,185,605, the Associated Press reports. The decrease has been the result of a slowdown in births and immigration along with an uptick in deaths due to the pandemic and people leaving the state.
The 0.3 percent population decline represents a slowing of the trend compared with the 0.59 percent decrease over the nine-month period between the April 2020 census date and that year’s end, demographers said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“To a certain extent, we have two or three things happening here—the pandemic is there in the sense that natural increase, it really slowed down over these two years. Some of that is a lack of births because of delayed childbearing decisions,” Walter Schwarm, chief demographer with the Department of Finance, told the Times. “Things are getting a little better, fertility is coming back after the pandemic.”
Researchers noted that federal policies restricting international immigration have significantly impacted the state’s population. In 2021, California gained 43,300 residents from other countries—a figure well below the annual average of 140,000 before the pandemic, the department said in a statement.
The majority of counties in the state experienced loss including every coastal county except San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz, the Times reports. Demographers said the limited growth in population in these areas is largely due to college students returning to campus.
Thirty-four of the state’s 58 counties experienced a population decrease with the biggest declines occurring in Plumas, Lassen, Butte, Del Norte, Napa, San Mateo, Marin, Shasta, San Francisco, and Ventura.
The state’s three most populous counties also lost residents: Los Angeles lost 70,114 people, San Diego lost 1,197 and Orange lost 7,297, according to the Times. Of California’s 10 largest cities, Bakersfield had the largest percentage population gain at 0.7 percent, followed by San Diego at 0.2 percent.
Although the pandemic has greatly impacted population trends in California, Dowell Myers, a professor of policy, planning and demography at USC, said the shift of people moving inland began in 2015—years before the pandemic.
“Millennials are getting older, and they need more space,” he told the Times. “They’re partnering up, and even without kids they want more space and to buy homes if possible. That’s long been underway.”
Myers added, “People are aiming for the suburbs. The pandemic was a trigger they all jumped.”
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