Evaluating population loss figures for California and its cities

Since growth is good in the United States, news that California populations are decreasing is a newsworthy item. But, how bad are the numbers? Let’s start with the absolute numbers:

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Citing changes in work-life balance, opportunities for remote work and more people deciding to quit their jobs, the report found that droves of Californians are leaving for states like Texas, Virginia, Washington and Florida. California lost more than 352,000 residents between April 2020 and January 2022, according to California Department of Finance statistics.

San Francisco and Los Angeles rank first and second in the country, respectively, for outbound moves as the cost of living and housing prices continue to balloon and homeowners flee to less expensive cities, according to a report from Redfin released this month.

Angelenos, in particular, are flocking to places like Phoenix, Las Vegas, San Diego, San Antonio and Dallas. The number of Los Angeles residents leaving the city jumped from around 33,000 in the second quarter of 2021 to nearly 41,000 in the same span of 2022, according to the report.

The American Community Survey estimates California’s population at 39,237,836 at July 1, 2021. If the state lost 352,000 residents in nearly two years, that is less than a 1% population loss. Not much.

If Los Angeles lost roughly 120,000 to 160,000 residents in a year out of a population of 3,849,297 (ACS estimates) that is a 3.1-4.2% population loss. A bit more.

Perhaps the real question is how the population growth in California compares to other places. Here are the numbers:

While California experienced a major population boom in the late 20th century — reaching 37 million people by 2000 — it’s been losing residents since, with new growth lagging behind the rest of the country, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. The state’s population increased by 5.8% from 2010 to 2020, below the national growth rate of 6.8%, and resulting in the loss of a congressional seat in 2021 for the first time in the state’s history.

No population loss for the state over a decade. In fact, 5.8% growth, 1% less growth than the country as whole. Not much. The more interesting comparison might be to the state’s own population growth rate, which prior to 2020 was over 10% for every decade since it joined the United States.

In sum: the pandemic might provided several unique years for population in particular places and the state is still growing overall even as it lags slightly behind the whole country and lags more compared to its historical percentage growth. So the real problems here are (1) that there might be any population loss at all in populated parts of California and (2) the state is not experiencing a population boom like it did for much of its history. Are these truly huge causes for concern?

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