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California Just Keeps On Shrinking

Written by Astrid KanePublished Feb. 16, 2023 • 12:00pm
California has lost 1.3% of its population since April 2020. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

California remains the largest state in the union by far, but it’s shrinking. In only the two-year period from 2020 to 2022, the Golden State lost some 510,000 residents. Only New York, the fourth-most populous state, lost more people over that period.

The 2020 U.S. Census recorded just over 39.5 million Californians, but as of 2023, that number has fallen by 1.3% to just over 39 million. Meanwhile, Texas, the second-most populous state, has grown to more than 29 million people, closing the gap with California to below 10 million. 

This represents a marked change from California, which essentially experienced nothing but sustained growth for its first 150 years as a state. During the 1980s alone, California expanded by more than 6 million residents—almost 1,700 people, every day, for an entire decade. 

In percentage terms, the Bay Area’s population loss during the 2020s has exceeded the state’s, with San Francisco’s 4% drop leading the nine-county region.

High housing costs and the rise of remote work have fueled talk of a “California Exodus,” with residents of states like Utah and Texas actively grumbling about an influx of ex-Californians, but the state is hardly alone in losing population. No fewer than 17 states have seen declines, with nine—led by New York, Illinois and Louisiana—losing a greater percentage of their total population than California has from 2021-22.

The population growth rate of the United States has slowed to a trickle, expanding by fewer than 2 million people from April 2020 to July 2022. As immigration rebounds to pre-pandemic levels, nearly all the nation’s growth owes itself to new arrivals.

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