After a Lull, California’s Population Growth Rebounds

Published on December 16th, 2013

Just last year, a headline in the USC News proclaimed “a massive slowdown in California’s population growth.” Since then, however, the state has added 332,000 people, described in the Los Angeles Times (12/12/13) as its biggest increase in a decade. California’s population now totals 38.2 million. The greatest increases were in the Bay Area counties of Alameda and Santa Clara.

Much of the growth came from births exceeding deaths, but this “natural increase” has remained steady during recent years. Interestingly, from 2012 to 2013, the longstanding trend continued of more Californians leaving the state than people from other states moving there. These movements resulted in a net loss of 105,000 people.

“The big change” in population growth last year, said Stephen Levy, director of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy, “was the increase in the number of foreign immigrants.” From last year to this year, 170,000 more immigrants came to the state than previous immigrants who left.

From these trends we can deduce that California remains an attractive place for foreigners to settle, but not so attractive for native-born Americans. Or stated another way, California may offer a better life than Mexico for Mexicans, but maybe not so good a life for Americans as Oregon, Washington, Colorado or Texas.

Immigration plays a role in making California less appealing to Americans. Legal and illegal immigrants, on average, are less skilled and educated than native-born citizens, and as a consequence they consume a disproportionate share of taxes for public services. Also the sheer numbers of immigrants have contributed to overcrowding and sprawl. Twenty-seven percent of California residents are foreign-born, the highest state percentage in the nation.

The immigration legislation passed by the Senate, and now being considered by the House, would not be good for California. It would grant amnesty to more than 11 million illegal aliens, thus removing any possibility that they will ever return home. About 2.5 million of them live in California. Also, the legislation would increase legal immigration, thereby adding 16 million more people to our national population during the next 20 years than the government now projects. Many will end up in California due to the family reunification provisions of our immigration laws.

Some commentators expressed hope that the previous lull in California’s population growth would give the state breathing space to catch up with fiscal demands and upgrade its infrastructure. Even if immigration doesn’t increase – and merely continues at it present record level – such hopes most probably are in vain.

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