California’s population is growing. So much for the claims about the demise of the state

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

California’s population is growing. So much for the claims about the demise of the state

California politics, immigration and the border, COVID-19 pandemic

George Skelton

April 15, 2024

It was doomed to the end. This is California after all. The declining population defies our history. Now we grew back again.

Yes that is correct. California has started adding people again after three years of shedding them.

Last week I reported that California residents were fleeing the state. They still are. But our numbers are rising again, based on updated Newsom administration data that will be released around May 1.

What caused the turnaround?

In other states, fewer people can now work remotely, old people are no longer dying at the extraordinary rate seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Biden administration has eased restrictions on legal immigration.

These forces are the main reasons for the return to positive population growth, state demographer Walter Schwarm told me in an email.

The new data will show that California’s population rose above 39 million again as of Jan. 1, Schwarm said.

A week ago I quoted a recent estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau that California’s population had fallen to 38,965,000 as of July last year. That was down 75,400 in a year and 573,000 below California’s 2020 peak of 39.5 million.

In 2000 it was predicted that we would reach 45 million by 2020 and almost 60 million by 2040. And why not? Since the Gold Rush, we have turned upside down and were by far the most populous state in the country.

But in recent years, people have moved to other states.

The main reason is California’s high cost of living, especially housing, researchers say. Houses are a lot cheaper almost everywhere



There are other reasons too: high taxes. Homeless disease. Crime, especially in stores where customers are concerned about their safety.

Liberal politics also drives out conservatives. They go to states like Idaho.

Some objected to the governor’s decision. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home edict during the pandemic that closed classrooms, restaurants and stores, an edict he himself infamously disobeyed by attending a lobbyist friends group’s birthday party at a fancy Wine Country restaurant.

But a unique reason for moving to other states during the pandemic was that people discovered they could work remotely for a California company there and receive the same good pay while lowering their housing costs. That window is closing.

Companies are increasingly requiring their employees to appear in person at least two to three times a week, so-called hybrid work. That forces people to stay in California and brings more people to live there.

With hybrid work arrangements becoming increasingly common in late 2022 and in 2023, the number of people moving to California rose again to historic levels, Schwarm emailed.

And he added: The people who move to California are, on average, highly educated and earn proportionately higher income levels.

Schwarm estimates that 26% of California workers worked from home in 2021. That percentage has halved to just under 13% and is declining.

Newsom last week ordered state employees to work in the office at least twice a week starting in June.

The government believes there are significant benefits to in-person work: better collaboration, cohesion, communication, better mentorship opportunities, especially for workers newer to the workforce, and better oversight and accountability, Cabinet Secretary Ann Patterson wrote in a memo to all departments.

About half of state employees already come into the office because their jobs require it, Patterson said, but the other half are working in various forms of hybrid or full-time remote work.

We are in a different place today as a society and as government agencies that serve the public, she added in the memo.

Many private employers are ahead of Newsom on that front. At the very least, they need hybrid work. And that has affected internal migration.

More people are still leaving than coming in, but the gap is closing.

Last year, roughly 91,000 more people left California than came from other states, according to Schwarm. But in 2022 the net loss was 170,000. And in the previous two pandemic years, there were a total of 58



What also contributed to the population loss is that many older people died


COVID during the pandemic. And young people don’t produce babies like they used to.

Now, however, mortality rates are back to normal. Birth rates have not increased. But last year there were still 117,500 more births than deaths, Schwarm says


Former President Trump virtually halted foreign immigration, legally and illegally, during the pandemic. Visas were denied to prevent the spread of the virus and probably only because Trump did not like many immigrants.

The New York Times quoted Trump telling financiers during a recent political fundraiser: These are people coming out of jails and prisons. They come from incredible places and countries, countries that are a disaster. Why can’t we allow people to come from beautiful countries like Denmark and Switzerland?

Schwarm said 42% of legal immigrants in California are from Asia and 38% are from Central America. And 57% have at least a bachelor’s degree. Last year, California welcomed more than 124,000 legal foreign immigrants,

There are no good data on undocumented immigrants, the demographer says, but data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security indicates that most asylum seekers end up in other states.

We are growing for the first time in recent years, says HD Palmer, spokesman for the Ministry of Finance, which also includes the demographic unit.

It’s not at the go-go levels of decades past. But it is a return to small levels of growth.

Hopefully it stays small. Forty million people will have much better ringtones by 2040 than 60 million.


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