Why has the State of #California lost 353,000 inhabitants in the last two years?

California, May 16, 2022.- The Covid19 pandemic, the economic crisis, e-commerce and teleworking have transformed the labor market and the productivity of the vast majority of companies. But also in the United States there have been other labor trends that have been spreading to other countries. For example, the resignation of millions of employees in recent months. I highlight all of these trends to find objective reasons why the state of California has lost more than 300,000 citizens in the last 24 months. There are many questions, but few answers. So far I have found the following:

California’s population growth had been slowing even before the pandemic as baby boomers’ aged, younger generations were having fewer children and more people were moving to other states. But the state’s natural growth — more births than deaths — and its robust international immigration had been more than enough to offset those losses.

That changed in 2020, when the pandemic killed tens of thousands of people above what would be expected from natural causes, a category demographers refer to as “excess deaths.” And it prompted a sharp decline in international immigration because of travel restrictions and limited visas from the federal government.

California’s population fell for the first time that year. At the time, state officials thought it was a outlier, the result of a pandemic that turned the world upside down. But the new estimate released Monday by the California Department of Finance showed the trend continued in 2021, although the decline was less than it had been in 2020.

State officials pointed specifically to losses in international immigration. California gained 43,300 residents from other countries in 2021. But that was well below the annual average of 140,000 that was common before the pandemic.

Are the statistics alarming or is it a normal process?

California’s population shrank slightly for the second year in a row last year, with the state losing 117,552 residents — and several Bay Area counties were crucial in helping to drive the decrease.

Napa, San Mateo, Marin and San Francisco counties were all among the top 10 counties with the largest percentage decreases in their populations, according to a new report from the state. Each of those counties lost nearly 1% of their population, though 34 of the state’s 58 counties lost net population.

The state Department of Finance released new annual population estimates Monday that show California’s overall population decreased by 0.3% in 2021, only the second year since data collection began in 1900 that the state saw an overall decline.

That said, the rate of the decline slowed from 2020, when state officials estimated the population decreased by 0.46%, a net loss of 182,083 people.

“It’s totally unprecedented. We were always historically the state that grew a lot,” Eric McGhee, a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, said of two years of population decline. “I think we’re going to be settling into a new reality of slow population growth, or negative population loss.”

The Finance Department said the population dip reflects a host of factors: a slowdown in the birth rate while deaths increase as Baby Boomers age, a surge in deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic, increased out-migration to other states and a drop in foreign immigration due to federal delays processing migrants.

California’s population has now dropped to 39,185,605, down from a peak of 39,538,223 in early 2020, according to the U.S. Census. The state’s population last grew by about 0.2%, or 87,494 people, in 2019.

Population growth remained strongest in the inland counties of the Central Valley, where construction of single-family homes has lured new residents. Yolo and San Benito counties grew by more than 1%. Meanwhile, nearly every county on the coast saw declines, with the exception of counties along the Central Coast.

The state’s growth has been slowing for decades as the birth rate declines and fewer people are migrating to California from both other states and other countries.

McGhee said several of the trends driving down California’s population numbers, such as declining birth rates and an aging population, are playing out in the rest of the country, as well. He said, however, that the level of out-migration to other states coupled with a steep drop in international immigration is driving the state’s decline.

Historically speaking, McGheee said California has often lost more residents to domestic out-migration than it’s gained over the last three decades, largely due to the cost of housing. That population shift was typically offset by foreign immigration, but the amount of immigrants coming has dropped due to the pandemic and federal policies: California had a net gain of 43,300 immigrants last year, compared with an average of 140,000 before COVID hit.

“That was always the way of back-filling people we lost to other states,” McGhee said. “That tap has turned off. The pandemic just completely killed immigration.”

While the overall population loss has been slight as a percentage, the issue presents an existential challenge for California. State leaders are already battling perceptions that a lack of housing, the soaring cost of living, crime rates, catastrophic wildfires and other crises are causing a Golden State exodus.

Last year, the state lost a representative in Congress for the first time in the state’s history, because its population grew more slowly than the rest of the country as a whole in the last Census.

David McCuan, a political scientist at Sonoma State University, said California’s population loss is, in part, a result of the state facing a barrage of negative-PR attacks that have put concerns about housing and quality-of-life issues at the center of the national narrative about California. He said it’s a stark shift from five or six years ago, when it was conceivable to project that the state would have more than 40 million residents by now.

Sources of information consulted:

ABC News 

San Francisco Chronicle 

San Francisco Business Times


San Francisco Examiner 

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