California records first annual population decrease in state history

California lost 182,083 people in 2020, marking the first population decline ever recorded in the state and underscoring larger trends that led to the recent loss of a seat in Congress.

This decrease puts California’s population at just under 39.5 million. The state had shown small annual increases for the last several years. Once the fastest-growing state in the nation, California saw a population increase from 2 million in 1900 to 34 million in 2000. That growth, however, has slowed in the new millenium. “Much has been made of the California exodus, and rightly so,” Hans Johnson, a senior fellow at Public Policy Institute of California, wrote in a recent report. “This migration, over the decades, has the power to reshape the state.” That prediction is shaping up, as United States Census Bureau data released last month revealed that California would lose a Congressional seat for the first time in its history due to its slow growth.

Though the state registered a population of 39.5 million, up more than 2 million from the last census, the growth rate was lower than the national average, stripping the state of one of its 53 Congressional seats. Texas and Florida, on the other hand, both gained seats. Even after losing one seat, California’s 52-member Congressional delegation will remain the largest of any state, followed by the delegation from Texas, which will have 38. More data required to redraw the state’s district boundaries will likely not be released until the fall.

The state of California has seen more people leave than move in from other states for much of the last three decades. In the last decade, 6.1 million people left, while 4.9 million moved to California from other states. That, however, had been more than offset by immigration and births. The majority of those who left California over the past decade cited jobs or housing as the main reason, according to a PPIC survey. The forces pushing people out of the state are also changing who comes in. Those moving into California are more likely to be employed, earn high wages and have higher education levels than those who move away, according to PPIC.

“The larger picture painted by these trends illustrates the economic challenges faced by many lower- and middle-income Californians,” wrote Johnson. “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.”

California’s population has become a political issue this year as some groups have coordinated an effort to recall Governor Gavin Newsom, with Republicans blaming high taxes and the governor’s policies for the exodus from the state. Julia Gelatt, who is a senior analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, said that people may be leaving California or choosing not to immigrate there due to the high cost of living. “It makes it really difficult to make ends meet,” she said of the issue. The state Department of Finance said it expects California to grow in population next year.





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