The California exodus isn’t over yet.
For the third consecutive year, the Golden State’s population continued to shrink in 2023, even as 42 other states grew this past year, many reversing population declines during the COVID pandemic, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau released Tuesday.
Overall nationally, the U.S. gained more than 1.6 million people this past year, growing by 0.5% to 334,914,895, the Census reported, with more states seeing population growth in 2023 than in any year since the start of the pandemic. While national population growth remains historically low, the U.S. saw a slight uptick from the 0.4% increase in 2022 and the 0.2% increase in 2021.
The Census said population trends are returning to pre-pandemic growth rates as international immigration returns and death rates continue to drop.
“Although births declined, this was tempered by the near 9% decrease in deaths,” said Kristie Wilder, a demographer in the Population Division at the Census Bureau. “Ultimately, fewer deaths paired with rebounding immigration resulted in the nation experiencing its largest population gain since 2018.”
So what’s going on in the Golden State?
California’s population shrank by 75,423 residents in 2023 to 38,965,193, a drop of 0.2% from 2022. But the so-called California exodus is slowing. The drop is less than the 0.3% annual decline in 2022 from 2021, and the 0.9% yearly drop in 2021 from 2020, when 39,503,200 called the Golden State home.
But while California’s population shedding is slowing, it remains among few states still losing residents. Others were New York, Louisiana, Hawaii, Illinois, West Virginia, Oregon and Pennsylvania. And California’s population decline since 2020 remains the fourth largest in the U.S., behind New York, Illinois and Louisiana.
Losing residents can be costly to states, as they can suffer drops in tax revenue and even political representation in Congress. The 2020 Census cost California, still the most populous U.S. state, a seat in the House of Representatives. It now has 52 House districts.
California’s declining population has become a political point, with Republicans arguing the heavily Democratic state’s high taxes, cost of living, crime and heavy regulation are driving people away. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, in a debate last month with California Gov. Gavin Newsom, noted that “people are leaving his state.”
Of the eight states that lost residents in 2023, all but West Virginia were governed by Democrats, though Louisiana’s termed-out governor will be replaced by a Republican next year. The states that gained population in 2023 the most were South Carolina, Florida, Texas and Idaho, all governed by Republicans.
“Gavin Newsom and California Democrats can continue to make excuses and gaslight residents into believing the California exodus is a ‘myth,’ but the numbers don’t lie,” Jessica Millan Patterson, chairwoman of the California Republican Party, said after seeing the Census reports.
But state officials said California’s population figures are explained more by the pandemic than Gov. Newsom’s policies.
“We see a continuing decline in deaths due to COVID relative to prior years, and secondly, we’re finally seeing a return to more normal patterns of legal foreign migration that was significantly constrained during the Trump administration,” said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the California Department of Finance.
Palmer, whose department produces its own population reports based off of Census figures, said he expects the Golden State exodus to level off and the state to begin growing again within a couple years.
“Within the next 12 to 18 months we’d anticipate returning to a period where we have not only a stable population but also a return to growth, but at a much lower level than we’ve seen in the past,” Palmer said.
Palmer also pointed to figures that indicate San Francisco, hard hit by pandemic population decline, is growing again, which he attributed to softening rent. He said the growth is shown in data for changes in driver licenses, immigration status and school enrollment, not things typically sought by those without homes.
“It’s really going to be a disappointment to the Doom Loopers,” Palmer said.
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