California’s Population Inches Up But Still Overcoming COVID Woes

The number of people in the Golden State has shrunk by 1.2% compared to 2019


California’s population has begun to rebound after a tumultuous few years, but its numbers are still a good chunk below what they were in pre-pandemic times. 

The Golden State’s population grew by 0.17 percent last year, but the state still has 1.2 percent fewer people than in 2019, according to an analysis by the Los Angeles Times

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This past year was the first since the pandemic began that California’s population growth rate was in the black rather than the red. Deaths from COVID-19, a severe drop in international migration during the lockdowns, and people leaving the state for other parts of the country with more affordable housing are likely to blame for downtick, per the Times.

Housing in particular is a major roadblock in the state’s population recovery. 

Almost 75 percent of renters and people under 35 have considered leaving Los Angeles, for example, while about 37 percent of homeowners and 26 percent of people over 65 have thought the same, according to a poll the Times conducted with the Los Angeles Business Council Institute.

L.A. County and San Francisco County fared the worst out of the state’s 58 counties. The population in L.A. County diminished by 3.3 percent since 2019 — or roughly 340,000 people. San Francisco County is down about 40,000 people, or 5 percent. The counties grew by 0.1 percent and 0.5 percent in 2023, respectively. 

California’s San Benito, Yuba and Trinity counties all reported growth of over 5 percent since 2019, though all three are rural and have significantly smaller populations compared to more urban areas. 

“It is unlikely that California will return to a period of rapid population growth. … Improving housing affordability through residential construction will be crucial to stemming outmigration, especially among middle- and low-income households,” the Public Policy Institute of California wrote in a population research report in October.

Rents in California ticked down by 1.4 percent, or nearly twice the 0.8 percent national average decrease in 2023. That appears like a good step in the right direction, until one realizes that statewide rents increased by 11 percent in 2022, which followed a 5.5 percent increase in 2021. As a wise and beloved Californian once said: bummer.

“It’s simple math – California needs to build more housing and ensure the housing we have is affordable,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement in October.

Nick Trombola can be reached at