California population declines for first time in state history


For the first time in recorded state history, the population of California declined year-over-year, with the total number of residents shrinking by 182,083 in 2020.

As of Jan. 1, 2021, the state of California has a population of 39,466,855, according to California Department of Finance figures released on Friday. The state’s population decreased by .46 percent in 2020.

San Luis Obispo County, too, declined in population in 2020. SLO County’s population declined by 2 percent, decreasing from 276,818 residents to 271,172. 

Among the seven cities in the county, only San Luis Obispo grew in population, with SLO increasing by .3 percent. Unincorporated areas of the county experienced the largest population decline, decreasing by a combined rate of 4.1 percent. 

The state Department of Finance attribute California’s population decline to three primary factors: slowing growth of the state’s birth rate, a decrease in foreign immigration and deaths associated with COVID-19.

State officials say the coronavirus pandemic increased the total number of deaths in California by 51,000, or 19 percent above the average death rate for the previous three years. While the state had 51,000 deaths associated with COVID-19, it only had 24,000 non-coronavirus deaths, according to the Department of Finance’s demographic report.

California blames federal policy in recent years for continuing declines in foreign immigration. Net International migration to California was negative in 2020, because of the suspension of visas, which began in March and continued over the duration of the year. The suspension also began applying to certain types of foreign workers in June, and global pandemic restrictions resulted in there being 53,000 fewer international students in California, according to the demographic report.

State officials do not list residents leaving California for other states as a primary factor in the state’s population decline, despite previously citing the trend as a key reason for California’s then-slowing growth rate. 

Numerous residents and businesses made highly-publicized departures from California in 2020. Critics of the state’s governance have argued the high cost of living and taxes, among other societal problems, are driving residents to move to more affordable states. One such state, Texas, attracted 63,000 residents who left California in 2017 alone.

The announcement of California’s first-ever population decline comes less than two weeks after the United States Census Bureau released the results of the 2020 census apportionment, which resulted in California losing a congressional seat for the first time. Conversely, Texas gained two House seats as a result of the apportionment. 

Below are the 2020 growth rates for SLO County’s seven cities and the unincorporated areas:

Arroyo Grande: – 0.4 

Atascadero: – 1.4 

Grover Beach: – 0.6 

Morro Bay: – 0.3 

Paso Robles: – 0.6 

Pismo Beach: – 1.0 

San Luis Obispo: + 0.3 

Unincorporated areas: – 4.1