Data Tracker

Once a boom state, California sees a historic period of slow population growth

By Phillip Reese - preese@sacbee.com

In suburban Sacramento’s El Dorado Hills, Lennar has homes under construction near Aspen Meadows Drive, but overall housing construction in California is slow.
In suburban Sacramento’s El Dorado Hills, Lennar has homes under construction near Aspen Meadows Drive, but overall housing construction in California is slow. Ed Andersen

For more than a century, California grew quickly nearly every year, earning a reputation as one of America's most desirable places to live.

From 1900 to 2004, the average annual population growth in the state was about 3 percent, more than double the national average. Only three times during that 100-year period did California's population fail to grow by at least 1 percent.

That has changed.

Last year marked the 11th in a row in which California's population grew by less than 1 percent, according to a Sacramento Bee review of data from the state Department of Finance. Fifteen states grew faster than California last year, including every state along its border. The trend began around the time of the Great California Housing Bust and continued through the recession.

The demographic patterns behind the trend are clear: Birth rates are down; and fewer people are coming to the state.

The crude birth rate in California has declined about 35 percent since its recent peak in 1991. The rate is similar to the low levels last seen in California during the Great Depression of the 1930's.

Net migration into the state has slowed to a trickle. During the last 11 years, California saw a net gain of 136,000 domestic and international migrants. During the prior 11 years, the state saw a net gain of more than 1 million. And from 1980 through 1990, net migration topped 3.5 million.

During the last 15 years, hundreds of thousands of California residents have left for places where it is cheaper to live, IRS data show. Immigration from Mexico, which previously drove much of California's growth, has slowed markedly. In both cases, population growth has shifted disproportionately to Texas.

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