California added 358,000 souls to its population last year and is now approaching 39 million, the state Department of Finance reported Friday.
The increase from 37.4 million to 38.7 million was 0.9 percent, a bit higher rate than recent years, but still well under the state’s growth rate during the 1980s, when it was more than twice as high and California’s population was growing by 600,000 a year. Since the 2010 census, California’s population is up by 1.4 million.
The main reasons growth is slower now than it was in the 1980s are that immigration from other nations has declined sharply, the state has been losing more domestic migrants to other states than it has been gaining, and the birth rate has been declining.
Even so, “natural increase” – about twice as many births as deaths – accounts for the vast majority of the state’s population gain. But the gap is likely to narrow as the birth rate continues to decline and the death rate rises from the aging of the baby boom generation.
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San Joaquin County, which was clobbered by the housing meltdown in the last decade, was California’s fastest growing county last year at 1.5 percent, closely followed by Imperial County – which has the state’s lowest incomes – and three counties in the booming San Francisco Bay Area, all at 1.3 percent.
Taft, in California’s Kern County oil patch, was the state’s fastest growing city in 2014 at 6.3 percent, although most of its gain reflected the opening of a prison whose inmates became, officially, city residents. Los Angeles, the largest city, added the most bodies, 43,000, as it was growing by 1.1 percent.
While Taft’s population benefited from a new prison, the dramatic decline of the state’s overall prison population in response to federal court orders appears to have had a negative affect on other rural communities. Lassen County, which has such a prison, had the state’s sharpest population loss, 0.8 percent, last year. It was one of several rural counties where the populations declined.