California Population Drops Below 39 Million as Residents Continue to Flee Paradise


The pace slowed, but people overall still are exiting California, according to the latest population report by the California Department of Finance. The decline of 138,400 people from 2021 to 2022 dropped the state’s population to 38,940,231, or -0.35 percent. Which put it below 39 million for the first time since 2015. The report notes some of the decline was due to COVID deaths. But other states also suffered such deaths, yet their populations still went up. Florida’s population rose 1.9 percent in 2022.

We’re a long way from the 6 million gain in population of the 1980s, when I came here in 1987. As recently as 2007, the same department was projecting a population of 60 million by 2050. That sure isn’t going to happen.

The population decline would have been even sharper without immigration from other countries. It tripled in 2022, to 90,300 from 31,300 in 2021. But for California residents, “Total births remain low due to fertility declines; while deaths have eased gradually from their pandemic peak, they remain elevated.” It’s tough having and raising kids here.

What happened? Well, we all know the general outlines. The main problem is housing prices soared during the 2010s, peaking only in early 2022 just before the Federal Reserve Board ended its ZIRP (zero interest-rate policy) and raised interest rates from 0 percent to 5.25 percent Wednesday.

Taxes also have risen. Even property taxes, formerly a bright spot because of the Proposition 13 limitation from 1978, rose along with property values. Rents more than doubled in that decade.

Epoch Times Photo
A construction worker builds housing in Huntington Beach, Calif., on March 17, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Housing Crisis Eases

There are some good developments. The report found the housing stock grew last year by 0.85 percent, the highest increase since 2008, the beginning of the Subprime Recession. Combine a declining population with a rising housing stock, and housing affordability has to go up.

Indeed, U.S. News reported April 5 for the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim metropolitan area, the median home price “fell 3.2% year-over-year in January to $799,000.”

For renters, the Real Deal reported April 5:

“Apartment vacancies in California have hit a two-year high, with rents falling across the Golden State. …

“Meanwhile, apartment rents in the state’s dozen most populous counties fell 3.5 percent from their August peak. The vacancy rate in Los Angeles was 5.4 percent, with average rents down 2.1 percent since 2021. … The increased vacancy rate has pushed typical rents down to $1,930 a month, $70 from the August peak. ”

Gains and Losses

For the state’s cities, 356 lost population, while 125 gained. There was no change in one. For the 10 largest cities, only three gained. Two were inland cities where land is cheaper and to which many coastal people have relocated: Bakersfield, up 822 people, or 0.2 percent. And Fresno, up 599 people, or 0.1 percent.

The third is Sacramento, the seat of the ever-growing state government, up 1,203 people, or 0.2 percent. Since Gov. Gavin Newsom took office in 2019, general-fund expenditures have risen from $146,285 billion in fiscal 2019-20 to a projected $223,614 in 2023-24. That’s a 53 percent increase in just four years. A large chunk of that money sticks in Sacramento and goes to all the politicians, bureaucrats, lobbyists, and special-interest pleaders, many buying McMansions. The rest of us pay for it.

Epoch Times Photo
People visit the beach in Laguna Beach, Calif., on October 15, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Coastal Decline

The most desirable place in America to live is Coastal California. It’s the dream paradise of 1960s beach movies like Beach Blanket Bingo and Bikini Beach. The latter has this great plot: “There are big waves crashing at Bikini Beach! The beach is close to becoming a retirement village. And a British popstar comes between Dee Dee (Annette Funicello) and Frankie (Frankie Avalon). Will it all be resolved by the end of summer vacation?”

Despite all that fun in the sun, for Orange County’s seven beach cities, five lost population: Huntington Beach -0.4 percent; Laguna Beach -0.3 percent; Newport Beach -0.3 percent; Seal Beach -0.9 percent; and San Clemente -0.3 percent. Those rising were San Juan Capistrano by 0.6 percent; and Dana Point by 0.4 percent.

Coastal areas tend to be older, as people are less likely to sell their houses so they can keep their Prop. 13 protections. Growing young families find it hard to move there.


Many of my friends already have left California, with several others making plans for an exodus. Still, my guess is the years of California’s net population decline may be over. The housing crisis is easing. And those most likely to leave already have done so.

But the years of rapid population increase also are gone. The rest of America, indeed the world, knows of California’s many problems, including endemic homelessness and lawlessness. Just by staying away and going to Florida, Texas, or Tennessee, which have no state income tax, people avoid California’s confiscatory 9.3 percent income tax on the middle class.

California’s many advantages now are outweighed by its painful liabilities.

John Seiler’s email: writejohnseiler@gmail.com

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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