Census Shows California Population Growth at a Record Low

Alexa Ripa grew up in California and says she’s never leaving the Golden State.

Beyond the state’s beaches and sought-after weather, it’s the state’s politics and cultural diversity that are keeping her there: “Especially as a kid of immigrant parents, I really do want to be in a space where people who look like me or people who look like my parents are welcomed,” she says.

But for some, the California lifestyle with its high cost of living is not possible, Ripa acknowledged, noting that with the conversation about leaving California comes a sense of privilege in being able to afford to stay.

And not everyone is staying — and the state will soon feel the effects. Largely due to domestic migration, California will lose a congressional seat for the first time in the state’s history. Known for its growth, California’s population grew by just 6.1% during the last decade, the U.S. Census Bureau announced on Monday, slower than the national average of 7.4%.

[READ: Texas, Florida Gain House Seats After Census Shuffle as California, New York Lose]

“We know that over the last decade that California has actually experienced natural increase, where they were able to gain population because there were more births to deaths, and they also had positive net international migration,” Karen Battle, chief of the Census Bureau’s population division said during a news conference Monday. “But California did have negative net domestic migration, where again there were more people moving out of California than moving into California and so that contributed to the population count and census.”

The loss was not unexpected, and comes after a year fraught with reports and headlines far and wide on the so-called California exodus — a claim that is not new for those acquainted with the state’s history. That, paired with the announcement of the departure of tech giants Oracle and HP in 2020, brought into question the lure that the state has maintained for so many decades. But what’s really happening in California?

Gov. Gavin Newsom commented on the state’s historic loss on Monday, according to The Associated Press: “We will continue to have strong representation in D.C. and California will continue to be a leader for the rest of the nation,” he said. Newsom, who took office in 2019 and is now facing a mounting recall effort, previously refuted claims that the state was on the outs, explaining that people had made claims about a California exodus before. “We recovered as a state,” Newsom said. “We worked through that as we always do.”

Between 2010 and 2019, more people moved from California to other states than those who moved to the Golden State, with a net loss of about 900,000 during the decade. But the previous decade saw an even greater loss to out-migration: About 1.5 million residents left California from 2000-2009.

But understanding the full picture in California may be more complicated than that. According to Dowell Myers, a professor of urban planning and demography at the University of Southern California, “the big picture is not a linear trend. It pulsates with the economy. There’s lots of ins and outs, and how to measure the real change requires more detailed data.”

The state has seen ups and downs in its population growth before. After a period of strong population growth in the 1980s, attracting millions to the state with a burgeoning aerospace industry, California saw a sharp decline in 1991 and the years following as the industry declined, according to Myers. Where the rest of the country experienced a small recession, California was hit particularly hard, losing around 300,000 jobs, and leading to a long recovery period for the state.

“The rest of the country was doing great,” Myers says. “So it was a rare moment when California looked really bad, and it’s because of aerospace.”

Then, in the early 2000s, as the state began to boom economically, so did the country. The state’s unemployment rate was low, but housing prices increased, so the state experienced another dip in population growth, gradually slowing in the new millenium, falling to a low of 0.5% year-over-year growth between 2005 and 2006. According to Myers, during the early 2000s, “it was a great economy everywhere, so you (didn’t) need to come here to get a job.”

In 2009, domestic migration was down by nearly 15% in the U.S. nationally compared to 1997 rates, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, reaching historic lows as the recession “froze up” the nation, and California was no different. But in the years following, California saw a steady recovery in terms of migration, both in and out. After 2016, however, although the economy and job market were doing well, out-migration began to increase. According to Myers, the escalating housing prices were to blame for the out-migration around this time.

Myers suggests that a huge increase in the number of millennials, born 25-40 years earlier, has led to a congested housing market in popular cities, but as those young people age, some seek single-family homes, moving away from apartment living. But the housing market cannot absorb them, according to Myers, especially in the coastal cities, perhaps leading to an increased out-migration among the generation.

Today, the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the trends and problems the state faces.

[READ: These States Are Struggling the Most During the Pandemic]

“People want to blame the pandemic for whatever happens,” Myers says. “Most experts agree, the pandemic has merely accelerated things that were already happening. … It’s accelerated the idea of remote work, it’s accelerated problems with racial inequality — everything has been exaggerated by the pandemic.”

When it comes to the future, too, the pandemic plays a role. But according to William Frey, a demographer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, the movements observed during the COVID-19 pandemic might not reflect greater trends.

During the pandemic, Frey expects a blip, or uncharacteristic change in population, “because things are crazy and people move for non-typical reasons during this period,” he says. “Whatever we see this year or next year is not a good basis to project three or four years after.”

With the latest population figures and loss of a congressional seat, some wonder about the Golden State’s future. For Frey, the bigger questions people are asking about the state’s future are still up in the air.

“A lot of people are talking about the movement of certain high-tech companies going from California to lower-cost states, and maybe the impact of people working from home will be that they are less likely to want to work in Silicon Valley,” Frey says. “I don’t think we’d make some sort of drastic projection on the basis of that, because people have left California now for 30 years at an annual basis with domestic out-migration that’s sometimes bigger, sometimes smaller.”

One reality going forward, though, is that cities in other states, like Atlanta or Dallas, are getting more competitive, according to Myers, and offering the cosmopolitan culture that California perhaps once monopolized. But if nothing else, Myers believes a certain population will keep California on the map.

“We’ve got a secret asset here that’s not talked about here in California,” Myers says. “We have a new homegrown population. … California has a lot of young people who may have immigrant parents, but they grew up here, the kids were born here,” he says. “And they are pretty attached to California.”

That’s certainly true for Ripa, and the majority of people she grew up with, she says.

“Most everyone I know who was from here is still pretty much here, or has the goal of coming back eventually,” Ripa says. “So I think everyone really sees the value in being in a place that’s so culturally diverse, a place that’s so close to everything — you’re close to the mountains, you’re close to the coast — every sort of adventure that you could possibly want.”

More from U.S. News

California Continues to Struggle With Economic Inequity

California’s Growth Rate at Record Low as More People Leave

Census Estimates Show Fastest-Growing States in 2020

Census Shows California Population Growth at a Record Low originally appeared on usnews.com

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