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Sharp population declines in Los Angeles, San Francisco is transforming the state

Los Angeles and San Francisco experienced dramatic population declines in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, new census data shows, highlighting how California’s housing crisis and other demographic forces are reshaping two of its largest cities.

In terms of total numbers, Los Angeles County lost about 160,000 residents — more than any other county in the country, the data shows. But LA County has about 10 million people, so the per capita loss was just over 1%, compared to 6.7% in San Francisco and 6.9% in New York.

“We are in this new demographic era for California of very slow, even negative growth,” said Hans Johnson, a demographer at the Public Policy Institute of California. “And that has implications for everything in our state – from how we live our lives, to school closures, to the capacity we might need for transportation networks, and possibly housing.

The data, released Thursday by the US Census Bureau, shows that California as a whole experienced a net loss of nearly 262,000 residents between July 1, 2020 and July 1, 2021, with the lion’s share of the losses coming from the county of Los Angeles: 159,621 people. The second-largest countywide loss in the country was New York City, which shrank by about 111,000 people.

The findings paint a picture of a state in flux, with factors such as soaring house prices, falling birth rates and more work-from-home options contributing to a shifting population.

“This loss that both California and Los Angeles County are experiencing is kind of the perfect storm from a demographic perspective, and all of the components that lead to population change are all trending downward for the county. ‘state and Los Angeles,” Johnson says.

According to the data, nearly all of the state’s population loss was caused by internal migration, which means most of those who leave choose to leave – often seeking more housing and job opportunities. affordable, or moving with their families.

Jena Lords said she and her husband discussed leaving Bakersfield for several years because they were unhappy with the direction the state was going. They decamped to Idaho last year.

“The main reason was 2nd Amendment rights,” Lords, 39, said. “There’s also the high cost of living, taxes, regulations.”

Lords and her husband both worked in the gun industry, she said. For them, it was as if “the governor did not want us to be able to defend ourselves”.

The pandemic provided a rare opportunity for the couple to relocate — Lords was working remotely as a department coordinator at Cal State Bakersfield and her husband quit his job in November 2020. Last spring, she took a job as an administrative assistant at Idaho State University. .

She and her husband lived in their RV for 10 months before closing escrow on a $140,000 home on a half-acre of land in Pocatello, about an hour south of Idaho Falls, there. two months old.

“The hardest thing was leaving our friends and family — and the beach, of course,” Lords said. “It’s incredible, the difference in culture. It’s a real small town atmosphere.

Overall, California has lost about 367,000 people like the Lords to internal migration – a number greater than the net loss, which includes gains from births and other sources. Los Angeles lost about 180,000 people to internal migration

The census figures underscore the population losses the state has faced in recent years. The state lost a congressional seat for the first time in history due to low population growth.

The Bay Area, where soaring housing prices have long been a major problem, has been particularly hard hit. San Francisco lost about 54,000 people and Santa Clara County, home to Silicon Valley, 45,000 people.

But more affordable parts of Southern California, such as Riverside and San Bernardino counties, saw growth during this time, including people moving in from other areas. Riverside had the third-highest population gain in the nation with about 36,000 new residents, behind only Maricopa County, Arizona, and Collin County, Texas, the data showed.

California was also among the minority to experience a “natural increase” in population, or more births than deaths during that one-year period, according to the data. Over 73% of US counties experienced natural decline in 2021.

Yet the natural increase is also slowing nationally and in California. The state reported 91,996 more births than deaths from July 2020 to 2021, according to census data, but that number was about 262,000 in 2015.

And while the state has seen a net gain in international migration — about 14,300 people have moved to California from overseas — the number is also significantly lower than in recent years. About ten years ago, Los Angeles County welcomed nearly 50,000 people through international immigration. This year, the county has only reported about 4,000.

“All of these factors are working together now in ways we’ve never seen before,” said Johnson, the demographer. “We’ve had periods of significant domestic emigration, but not at the same time that we’ve seen this sharp decline in foreign immigration and a slowdown in natural increase. So when you add all of these things together, it adds up to population losses for both the state and for Los Angeles that are very, very unusual demographically.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic likely played a role in the drop in immigration, the number of international migrants has been steadily declining for several years, said Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA.

“It’s a combination of those things, but it was definitely happening before the pandemic,” Ong said. “In some ways, that’s part of what we see historically in terms of immigrants – that they settle and congregate in a few areas and cities, but over time they drift away. And when they move away, they sponsor new relatives from further away from the original nucleus.

A shrinking population can have a negative effect on the local economy and can mean fewer skilled workers, Ong said.

For some, the decision to leave California was born out of growing frustration and a desire for change.

“I started to see the homeless population increase and nothing was being done about it,” said Alfredo Malatesta, a former Southern California resident who immigrated to Los Angeles from Peru when he was a child. “It was starting to remind me of where I had gone many years before.”

He and his wife, Erin, moved from Santa Clarita, Tennessee in 2017 and shone in rural life outside of Nashville.

“You feel like everyone wants to fuck you somehow in a city like Los Angeles. And for the amount I’m paying to live here, the taxes, the crumbling infrastructure …everything is like constantly like you’re screwing yourself,” Malatesta, 43, said.

After sitting down and charting the future, the couple decided they wanted to get away from the “fatigue” they felt in Los Angeles – and a new adventure with a simpler life.

“I kept telling myself that my wife and I couldn’t live happily here and that the system is counterproductive and inefficient. It is increasingly difficult to run a business when these constraints weigh on you,” he said. “Looks like Los Angeles no longer has an identity.”

Los Angeles Times

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