California’s population fell by nearly one-half of a percentage point last year, its first decline in at least 120 years, according to data released Friday.
The nation’s most populous state lost 182,083 people during 2020, the California Department of Finance said, bringing the total to 39.47 million. It attributed the decline to pandemic-related trends including increased deaths, less immigration and fewer births.
But the drop comes as California’s population growth had already plateaued before the pandemic, due to a yearslong decline in the birthrate and rising migration to other states. More people have left California for other states than the opposite for all but two of the last 30 years and beginning in 2018, net domestic out-migration outpaced net international migration.
“We believe that we will be back to a positive [growth] rate” in 2021, said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the Department of Finance. “Not a booming rate, to be sure, but a slightly positive rate.”
California, which was the epicenter of the nation’s surge in Covid-19 cases for much of the winter, experienced a 19% increase in the average death rate last year, according to the finance department. To date, 61,027 Californians have died of Covid-19.