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California's Population Grew in 2023, Halting 3 Years of Decline
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By Associated Press
Published 4 weeks ago on
April 30, 2024

California's population grows for the first time since 2019, with over 67,000 new residents in 2023, marking an end to its recent decline and setting the stage for future growth. (Shutterstock)

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SACRAMENTO — The nation’s most populous state is growing again.

California gained population last year for the first time since 2019, according to a new estimate released Tuesday by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration.

Population Increase and Previous Decline

The net increase of just over 67,000 residents in 2023 — a 0.17% increase — stopped a three-year trend of population decline, which included the state’s first-ever year-over-year loss during the pivotal census year of 2020 that later led to California losing a congressional seat. The state estimates California now has more than 39.1 million residents.

The Newsom administration had blamed the decline on a combination of increased mortality rates during the coronavirus pandemic, a declining birth rate and a slowdown in legal international immigration caused by the pandemic and stricter immigration rules during President Donald Trump’s administration.

But critics pointed to a surge of people leaving California for other states, interpreting it as residents fed up with higher taxes, a larger homeless population and a shortage of housing while Democrats have been in power.

Domestic Migration and International Immigration

More people still left California in 2023 than moved here from other states, but it was far less than previous years. In 2021 — when the coronavirus was still surging and more people were transitioning to remote work — California lost a net 355,648 people because of domestic migration.

In 2023 — with the pandemic winding down and companies placing more emphasis on returning to in-office workspaces — 91,189 more people moved away from California than into the state. That number is much closer to pre-pandemic trends, according to Walter Schwarm, chief demographer for the California Department of Finance.

“We saw it increase at the beginning of the pandemic because there was a certain amount of individuals who moved out of state associated with the ability to work remotely, but we’ve seen that trend reverse,” said H.D. Palmer, spokesperson for the California Department of Finance.

Meanwhile, growth from legal international immigration — which has been California’s growth engine for decades — rebounded with a net gain of 114,200 people in 2023, or almost back to the same level it was before the pandemic.

California’s Economy and Population Trends

“With immigration processing backlogs largely eliminated and deaths returning to long-term trends, a stable foundation for continued growth has returned,” the Department of Finance noted in a news release announcing the estimate.

California’s economy has shown signs of strain recently. The state is in the middle of back-to-back multi-billion dollar budget deficits because of declines in state tax revenue. California’s unemployment rate is 5.3%, which is above the national average and the highest of any state. And the state’s stalwart technology industry has been beset by layoffs as companies deal with a slowdown in investments.

Despite that, the population increased in 31 of California’s 58 counties — including nine of the 10 counties with populations over 1 million. Los Angeles County — the nation’s most populous with more than 9 million residents — grew slightly by 0.05%, while nearby Orange County grew by 0.31%.

California’s population had been booming ever since it became a state in 1850 as a gold rush prompted a surge of people crossing the frontier to seek their fortune in the West. The state had notable surges following World War II fueled by a burgeoning aerospace industry and again in the 1980s and 90s with the technology boom in Silicon Valley.

By 2019, California was threatening to break the 40 million population threshold. But that milestone never happened as the state began a period of population decline in 2020.

Population Estimates and Data

The California Department of Finance releases two population estimates each year: One for the previous calendar year and one for the previous fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 30. The estimate released Tuesday was for the previous calendar year, offering an estimate of the state’s population as of Jan. 1, 2024.

California bases its estimate on a number of factors, including births and deaths, drivers license address changes, vehicle registration and enrollment in the government-funded health insurance programs of Medicaid and Medicare.

U.S. Census data showed California with a population of 38.9 million people as of July 1, 2023. The Newsom administration’s estimate is higher, they said, because it includes more updated data from driver’s licenses changes and tax filings.

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