The Population of California Declined, Again

Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park and Hostel near Pescadero.Credit…Jason Henry for The New York Times

It was big news a few years ago when, for the first time in more than a century, California’s population shrank.

The small but still startling decline in 2020 was driven by Covid-19 deaths and falling immigration and birth rates, and it was something of a turning point for a huge state founded on rapid growth and long accustomed to it. The population slowdown even cost California a congressional seat.

Well, the state’s population dipped yet again in 2022, for the third year in a row. The number of people living in California fell by 138,443 last year, to 38.94 million, according to state data released this week.

Several trends that were made worse by the pandemic are contributing to the decline: a higher-than-normal death rate, a falling birthrate, a drop in international migration and a flow of Californians moving to other states.

Even after three years of decline, though, California remains by far the nation’s most populous state, home to one in eight U.S. residents. And the latest annual drop is the smallest since the downward trend began in 2020, suggesting another reversal of fortunes could be in store, according to H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the California Department of Finance.

“We see this slowing of the year-over-year declines,” Palmer told me. “We would expect to get back to a period of positive growth in the next 18 months, where we’d see a resumption of year-over-year growth in the state’s population.”

But there’s no guarantee.

The primary driver of the state’s population loss has been Californians moving to other states, like Texas, Nevada, Idaho or Oregon, according to Hans Johnson, a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California. Between July 2021 and July 2022, the net movement out of California was a record 407,000 people, he said.

California has been losing residents to other states for decades, though that was usually offset by arriving immigrants, whose numbers plummeted in 2020. The growth in remote work has also allowed more people to seek cheaper housing in other states, enticing high-income and highly educated Californians to join the net exodus, according to Johnson’s analysis.

“In the past, California had continued to gain college graduates and people who had higher incomes, even as we were losing a very large number of less educated adults,” he said. “And then in the most recent couple years we’ve seen an outflow for every group.”

So, as the future of workplaces remains uncertain, so do the future demographics of California. While rates of international immigration will play a role, the key to the future population trend in the state is likely to be whether Californians continue to relocate to more affordable states or have to stay in the state (or return) to keep their jobs.

The state’s population peaked at 39,648,938 in January 2020 — just below the threshold of 40 million residents.

“California came right up to 40 million,” Johnson told me. “And then we inched back from it, and now we’ve inched back quite a ways from it — and it could be many years until we get there, if we ever do.”

A small memorial at the park site where Karim Abou-Najm, a senior at the University of California, Davis, was fatally stabbed in Davis.Credit…Paul Kitagaki Jr./The Sacramento Bee, via Associated Press

If you read one story, make it this

Davis has been rocked by mystery stabbings.

A dispute has pitted 11,500 screenwriters against the major studios, including old guard entertainment companies as well as tech industry newcomers.Credit…Mark Abramson for The New York Times

The rest of the news

  • Writers’ strike: More than 11,000 movie and television writers went on strike for the first time in 15 years, halting production and dealing a blow to an industry that has been rocked by the pandemic.

  • Housing: California’s attorney general sued the city of Elk Grove for denying a low-income housing project while approving a development for the wealthy, The Associated Press reports.

  • Fire season: A wetter-than-usual winter may delay the start of fire season, but very likely won’t prevent it, The Los Angeles Times reports.

  • Reparations: The California Reparations Task Force indicated it would recommend that the state apologize for racism and slavery and consider “down payments” to African American residents, CalMatters reports.


  • Lead cleanup: The Prospering Backyards project is treating yards in southeast Los Angeles County contaminated by a former battery recycling plant with zeolite, a porous, lead-trapping mineral, The Los Angeles Times reports.

  • Air pollution: Business groups say new air pollution regulations that will phase out diesel-fueled trucks could harm cross-border trade. Officials say the regulations are necessary and that financial assistance will be available, Voice of San Diego reports.

  • “Poverty employer”: According to a new report, fast food employees make up 9 percent of all homeless workers in Los Angeles County, The Los Angeles Times reports.


  • Desperate students: Amid soaring housing costs, Camper Park, a trailer park owned and operated by the University of California, Santa Cruz, has become one of the most coveted housing options at the school, The Wall Street Journal reports.


  • Tech layoffs: The number of tech workers in the Bay Area slated to be laid off in 2023 has already exceeded the number of people in tech who were cut in 2022, The Mercury News reports.

Donner Pass Road in Truckee in March.Credit…Stephen Lam/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Where we’re traveling

Today’s tip comes from Bill George, who recommends a drive from Sacramento to Truckee:

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

The campgrounds on Santa Rosa Island.Credit…Axel Koester for The New York Times

And before you go, some good news

California has many lovely spots to visit year round, but spring is an exemplary time of year for the state. National parks, gorgeous lakes and hot springs are just a few choices.

To help both natives and visitors take advantage of the beautiful weather, Thrillist has compiled a list of not-so-known locations in the state that are worth a visit.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

Briana Scalia, Isabella Grullón Paz and Camille Baker contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].


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