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5 surprises inside California’s population losses

California lost residents for the third consecutive year, but within another dreary report on a reduction in residents were five surprising twists.

Could shrinking losses and out-migration, a low death rate, plus growing births and immigrants eventually stop the state’s population declines?

Let’s start by noting that the new US Census Bureau data for the 12 months ending July 1 showed the Golden State was still the nation’s most populous state with 39 million residents – that’s 12% of all Americans. But California’s population suffered the nation’s No. 2 largest drop, off 113,649 in a year as the U.S. grew by 1.26 million overall.

Note that No. 2 Texas is now in the 30-million club, too. Next on the people-meter rankings comes Florida at 22.2 million, New York at 19.7, and Pennsylvania at 13 million. And just to remind you, there are some very tiny states: Wyoming at 581,381, Vermont at 647,064, Washington, D.C. at 671,803, Alaska at 733,583 and North Dakota at 779,261.

When it came to adding people, Texas also was number one, adding 470,708 new residents, followed by Florida at 416,754, North Carolina at 133,088, Georgia at 124,847 and Arizona at 94,320. (And on a percentage basis, the leaders were Florida at 1.9%, then Idaho at 1.8%, South Carolina at 1.7%, Texas at 1.6%, and South Dakota at 1.5%.)

California and 18 other states had population drops in the year. New York topped the list, losing 180,341 residents, and then after California came Illinois, down 104,437, Pennsylvania, down 40,051 and Louisiana, off 36,857.

However, buried within California’s people patterns were some unexpected twists.

Surprise No. 1: A significant shrinkage in decline

California’s 2022 drop was a 245,013 improvement over 2021’s 358,662 loss. No state had a larger variance in the one-year change.

The year’s return to a more normal post-pandemic life and the end of strict business limitations likely cooled the Golden State’s population decline.

No. 2 on the improvement scale was Florida at 178,287, then Texas at 144,318, New York at 70,463 and Georgia at 66,646. Results in 24 states worsened: the biggest decline was Pennsylvania at 57,670, then Oregon at 27,670, Connecticut at 23,143, Idaho at 20,393 and Utah at 13,641.

Moving about

The big drag on California’s population was that 343,230 more residents departed for other states than new neighbors arrived in the past year, the biggest “net outmigration” among the states.

Did bosses’ push for a return to office work slow the net outflow? The pace is still far above the 142,000 average of more outs than ins for California in pre-pandemic 2015-19.

There were 25 states with more exits than arrivals: New York was No. 2 at 299,557, then Illinois at 141,656, New Jersey at 64,231 and Massachusetts at 57,292.

Florida had the biggest net in-migration at 318,855, then Texas at 230,961, North Carolina at 99,796, South Carolina at 84,030 and Tennessee at 81,646.

Surprise No. 2: California’s “exodus” slowed

The net outflow fell by 115,721 over 12 months, the biggest improvement nationwide.

Florida had the No. 2 improvement at 74,922, then Georgia at 45,949, Texas at 38,140 and Tennessee at 31,196.

In 32 states, net migration was worse in 2022: Pennsylvania was tops at 67,704, then Connecticut at 32,566, Massachusetts at 30,575, New Jersey at 30,488 and Oregon at 27,616.

Making babies

California ranked No. 1 for births with 424,652, a 12% share on par with its population size.

Then came Texas at 379,412, Florida at 220,578, New York at 212,145 and Pennsylvania at 132,099.

Surprise No. 3: The post-lockdown baby-making upswing continues

California’s 2022 births were 470% above pandemic-twisted 2020 – the No. 6 gain and topping 333% growth nationally.

This isn’t just a population gain, it’s an economic boost to many industries, most notably real estate.

No. 1 was Utah with an 846% baby boom, then Alaska at 716%, Texas at 581%, Idaho at 521%, and North Dakota at 478%. Even the lowest end had noteworthy jumps: New York at 193%, then West Virginia at 196%, Connecticut at 201%, New Jersey at 202% and Rhode Island at 211%.

Easing endings

California was also No. 1 for deaths at 318,497 followed by Texas at 261,253, Florida at 260,794, New York at 176,534 and Pennsylvania at 155,120.

Surprise No. 4: California had only 9% of U.S. deaths vs. its 12% share of the population

California is a younger state, but its strict pandemic-fighting prevention policies may also have kept deaths low.

California had a “death rate” of 0.8% of its population, only Utah was lower at 0.7%. In 2022, deaths took 1% of all Americans. Tying California was D.C. and Colorado. Texas was No. 5 at 0.9%.

Highest death rates? West Virginia at 1.7%, then Mississippi at 1.4%, and Kentucky, Arkansas and Alabama at 1.3%.

Moderate deaths helped California’s “natural growth” – demographic math tracking those who were born vs. those who had died. The state ranked No. 2 with 106,155 more babies than funerals – that’s 43% of the U.S. total.

Texas was No. 1 at 118,159, then after California came New York at 35,611, Utah at 23,549, and New Jersey at 19,751.

But in 24 states, deaths exceeded births. Typically, these are places with older populations, but pandemic policies may have been part of the issue.

Florida had the biggest gap at 40,216, then Pennsylvania at 23,021, Ohio at 19,543, Michigan at 12,482 and West Virginia at 12,158.

Foreign inflow 

Another California population booster were the 125,715 foreign newcomers, the national leader just ahead of Florida at 125,629. Then came Texas at 118,614, New York at 77,923, and Massachusetts at 43,880.

Look, California has long been an immigrant magnet, averaging 212,000 new residents a year from outside the state in 2015-19.

Surprise No. 5:  2022’s huge immigration jump created the largest foreign flow to California since 2016.

In the past year, refugees from Ukraine and Afghanistan, plus the southern U.S. border challenges, juiced the immigrant wave across the nation. California’s new residents from other lands grew by 185% in 12 months, the largest jump among the states and topping 169% national growth.

After California came Hawaii at 182%, Nevada at 181%, North Dakota at 179% and Arizona at 177%. Even the smallest jumps were eye-catching: Vermont and West Virginia rose 144%, Arkansas 146%, Maine 150% and Iowa 153%.

Immigration, legal or not, is a national hot-button topic. Yet as U.S. worker shortages grow more common in this aging nation, the American opportunity will certainly be a major lure.

Postscript

Growth may be sexy – but it’s also a costly endeavor.

Population loss is no doubt an ego-deflator with some real-world negative implications, including loss of national political clout.

However, California faces notable big-picture challenges that stretch much-needed supplies – from housing to water to electricity to transportation to the state government’s budget.

Flat population trends could give the state some needed breathing room in order for progress to be made in light of the complex headaches California faces, of which few have quick or easy solutions.

I’m hopeful the population decline doesn’t cool the urgency for meeting those huge challenges. Rather, it’s worth noting a potential upside to fewer Californians.

Jonathan Lansner is the business columnist for the Southern California News Group. He can be reached at jlansner@scng.com

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