For Second Straight Year, California Sees a Population Decline

LOS ANGELES — Deaths from Covid. Aging baby boomers. Fewer children. Restrictions on immigration.

These factors, not to mention the soaring cost of living, are forcing California — long associated in the public imagination as a destination and place of growth — to confront the fact that it is a shrinking state.

For the second time in two years, the California Department of Finance has reported a drop in the state’s population.

California lost 117,552 residents last year, driven largely by the Covid death toll and a sharp drop in foreign immigration. This followed a slightly bigger decline in 2020, when the state lost 182,083 residents — the first time in more than a century that California got smaller.

Officials recorded about 275,000 people leaving California last year, up from about 180,000 in the years before the pandemic. That decline is typically offset by the arrival of immigrants from abroad, but last year that figure plummeted. Before the pandemic, the average annual influx of immigrants was 140,000 people; last year the figure dropped to 43,300.

The rise in migration out of California, which remains the country’s most populous state with more than 39 million residents, is partly explained by the easing of pandemic restrictions.

“Early on in the pandemic, nobody was going anywhere,” H.D. Palmer, a Finance Department spokesman, said, adding, “As you started coming out of Covid, those people who might have otherwise been inclined to move on did so.”

Palmer said that residents leaving the state for economic reasons was not a new phenomenon, and that the state saw a much greater level of flight in the early 1990s because of the decline of the aerospace and defense industries in Southern California.

“There have been at various levels over the years people moving out of California,” he said. “In part because California is a destination state globally for migrants who will come here, stay for several years, and then move on.”

State officials said that although some Californians are leaving to find cheaper places to live, the state’s population wouldn’t have declined if it weren’t for the pandemic, which both limited immigration and killed current residents — the state had 69,000 excess deaths in 2021.

Still, the latest data is further evidence that California, whose identity has been tied to expansive growth going back to the Gold Rush days, is now a state of stagnant growth. That has already resulted in the state losing a congressional seat for the first time in its 170-year history.

In the state data released this week, most counties in California saw population declines. But there were gains in inland areas, as residents fled the high costs of coastal cities to places like the Central Valley and the Inland Empire, to the east of Los Angeles.

In the coming years, especially if there are no more deadly waves of the pandemic, officials expect the state’s population to stabilize, and perhaps return to slight growth.

Excess deaths have been declining this year, partly because the Omicron variant of the coronavirus appears less deadly. Walter Schwarm, California’s chief demographer, said he expected the number of excess deaths to largely disappear if future variants follow a similar path.

But given the long-term trends of declining birthrates — on average, women in California have their first child at 32, up from 27 about a decade ago — California’s days of explosive growth are quite likely gone for good.

“I don’t know that we’re ever going to have growth rates over 1 percent anymore,” Schwarm said.

For more:

  • Norman Mineta dies: The 10-term Democratic congressman from California was interned with other Japanese Americans during World War II and later became transportation secretary. He was 90.

  • Gas tax: The price of gas in California will rise by three cents on July 1, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

  • Unusual hepatitis cases: At least 10 states, including California, have either identified or are investigating reports of unusual hepatitis cases in otherwise healthy children.

  • Transgender youth refuge: Democratic lawmakers in more than a dozen states are modeling legal refuge for displaced transgender youth after the bill proposed by State Senator Scott Wiener, The Associated Press reports.

  • Homelessness crisis: Can California solve homelessness by simply building more places to live? Read more from the Times opinion writer Jay Caspian Kang.



  • Thinning forest: A federal plan to thin the forest on Pine Mountain has brought lawsuits from the Patagonia clothing company as well as cities and environmental groups, The Los Angeles Times reports.


  • Sacramento shooting: Prosecutors have filed murder charges for three people involved in April’s mass shooting in the state capital, The Associated Press reports.

For $5 million: A Spanish-style house in Santa Monica, a 1925 Tudor Revival home in Ojai and a Craftsman-inspired bungalow in Los Gatos.

Today’s tip comes from Michele Swiggers, who recommends Culp Valley in the Anza-Borrego desert at California’s southern end:

“It is a free campground with abundant hiking nearby. A wonderful short hike leads up to this spot overlooking the town of Borrego and the Salton Sea. A few miles down the Montezuma grade is the Maidenhair Falls hike, which is difficult but worth it. Perhaps best of all — no data reception!”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

For the first time in more than a century, the endangered California condor soared the skies over the state’s redwood forests along the far northern coast.

Two captive-bred male condors were released from a pen in Redwood National Park on Tuesday, under a project aimed at restoring the giant vultures to their historic habitat in the Pacific Northwest.

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