The population drop comes as Governor Gavin Newsom faces a summons over his response to the coronavirus and high taxes.
California’s population decreased by more than 182,000 people in 2020, marking the first annual loss ever recorded for the nation’s most populous state.
State officials announced Friday that California’s population fell by 0.46 percent to just under 39.5 million from January 2020 to January 2021.
The news comes a week after the US Census Bureau reported a paltry population growth in California, resulting in the state losing a seat in Congress for the first time as it has grown more slowly than other states over the past decade.
But the census figures reflect the state’s population in April 2020. The new state figures released on Friday reflect the state’s population as of January 2021.
California became a state in 1850 in the wake of the gold rush that drove people to search for their fortunes in the West. The population rose after World War II with the help of a strong defense and aviation industry. It blossomed again in the 1980s and 1990s as tech companies put Silicon Valley on the map.
But growth slowed after the end of the Cold War in the 1990s when the federal government cut defense spending and again in the years leading up to the Great Recession in the late 2000s.
State officials say California has seen more people leave than other states during most of the past three decades. However, this was compensated for by international migration and births so that California continued to grow.
That will change in 2020. State officials say a declining birth rate, combined with a decline in international migration and an increase in deaths due to the Coronavirus, has led to the state’s first population loss on an annual basis.
California experienced negative international immigration in 2020, which state officials say was a direct result of the Trump administration’s decision to stop issuing new visas for most of that year. Coronavirus restrictions around the world have also caused a 29 percent drop in international students coming to California, or about 53,000 people.
In addition, about 51,000 people died from the Corona virus in California last year. That’s a 19 percent increase over the state’s average death rate over the past three years. In all, 51 of the 58 counties recorded mortality rates above the three-year average – including 12 that increased by 20 percent or more.
In a press release, the California Department of Finance said it expects the state to return to “slightly positive annual growth” for calendar year 2021. These numbers will be released in May.
The state’s population has become a political issue this year in light of efforts to summon Gov. Gavin Newsom, with Republicans blaming the high taxes and the governor’s policies for people fleeing the state.
From 2010 to 2020, about 6.1 million people left California for other states compared to about 4.9 million people who moved to California from other states, according to analysis of census data by the California Public Policy Institute.
The Treasury’s population estimate comes from several sources, including the number of births and deaths, the number of new driver’s licenses and address changes, school enrollment and federal tax returns.