For the first time since its founding in 1850 during the gold rush, California’s population fell by more than 182,000 last year, the first yearly loss ever recorded.
Figures were released Friday following the announcement from the U.S. Census Bureau that California lost a congressional seat, according to national media reports. Although, sitting at just under 39.5 million, California’s population is still the largest in the country.
The decline — 0.46% between January 2020 and January 2021 — represents approximately twice the population of Santa Barbara.
The decline is part of a decades-long trend, and experts speculate it’s the result of a number of things, including the pandemic, fewer births, more deaths, a slowing of international migration, jobs and housing costs.
State officials predict the population will return to “slight annual positive growth” when estimates are released next year.
Declines in foreign immigration accounted for 100,000 less people living in the state, including 53,000 international students who stayed home during COVID-19; 51,000 Californians died of COVID-19; and 24,000 less annual births occurred.
The Public Policy Institute of California released a study regarding who’s coming in and out of the state and found that in general, those who move to California are likely to be working age, employed and earning high wages, and less likely to be living in poverty. Those moving in tend to have higher education levels and higher incomes as well.
The vast majority of adults who left California in the 2010s — about 6.1 million people — cited jobs (49%), housing (23%) or family (20%) as the primary reason for leaving the state, according to the PPIC survey.
State officials say California might have between 140,000 and 150,000 people move in from other countries in a normal year, but in 2020, it was 29,000. Officials say that is a direct result of former President Donald Trump halting new visas for much of the year.
Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose and San Francisco lost a combined 88,000 people in 2020, but major inland cities like Sacramento, Fresno and Bakersfield gained people, which could be a result of people fleeing high-priced coastal cities.