California population falls for first time in state history

May 8, 2021


For the first time in recorded state history, the population of California declined year-over-year, with the total number of residents shrinking by 182,083 in 2020.

As of Jan. 1, 2021, the state of California has a population of 39,466,855, according to California Department of Finance figures released on Friday. The state’s population decreased by .46 percent in 2020.

San Luis Obispo County, too, declined in population in 2020. SLO County’s population declined by 2 percent, decreasing from 276,818 residents to 271,172.

Among the seven cities in the county, only San Luis Obispo grew in population, with SLO increasing by .3 percent. Unincorporated areas of the county experienced the largest population decline, decreasing by a combined rate of 4.1 percent.

The state Department of Finance attribute California’s population decline to three primary factors: slowing growth of the state’s birth rate, a decrease in foreign immigration and deaths associated with COVID-19.

State officials say the coronavirus pandemic increased the total number of deaths in California by 51,000, or 19 percent above the average death rate for the previous three years. While the state had 51,000 deaths associated with COVID-19, it only had 24,000 non-coronavirus deaths, according to the Department of Finance’s demographic report.

California blames federal policy in recent years for continuing declines in foreign immigration. Net International migration to California was negative in 2020, because of the suspension of visas, which began in March and continued over the duration of the year. The suspension also began applying to certain types of foreign workers in June, and global pandemic restrictions resulted in there being 53,000 fewer international students in California, according to the demographic report.

State officials do not list residents leaving California for other states as a primary factor in the state’s population decline, despite previously citing the trend as a key reason for California’s then-slowing growth rate.

Numerous residents and businesses made highly-publicized departures from California in 2020. Critics of the state’s governance have argued the high cost of living and taxes, among other societal problems, are driving residents to move to more affordable states. One such state, Texas, attracted 63,000 residents who left California in 2017 alone.

The announcement of California’s first-ever population decline comes less than two weeks after the United States Census Bureau released the results of the 2020 census apportionment, which resulted in California losing a congressional seat for the first time. Conversely, Texas gained two House seats as a result of the apportionment.

Below are the 2020 growth rates for SLO County’s seven cities and the unincorporated areas:

Arroyo Grande: – 0.4

Atascadero: – 1.4

Grover Beach: – 0.6

Morro Bay: – 0.3

Paso Robles: – 0.6

Pismo Beach: – 1.0

San Luis Obispo: + 0.3

Unincorporated areas: – 4.1


Seems to me that many of the people leaving California are either retirees who have sold their homes here to buy something comparable for cash in the Southern or Mid-Western states, or recent college graduates who are seeking to settle somewhere they may actually be able to afford buying a home and raising a family. Two of our grown children have settled in Idaho and Utah for that reason and many of my retiring co-workers are moving to Tennessee, Georgia and Texas. My neighbor sold their home upon retiring and was able to purchase a much larger home nicer home for cash in Georgia with the equity they had in their home in North SLO. Just makes sense to a lot of people to get out of California!

Jorge Estrada

The good old boy town of Taft is being sold to the L.A. Mexicans and their sub groups because that is where the affordable housing exists. Even Santa Maria is turning the affordability corner into what is now the home of the wealthy class of all cultures. From the Patel 7/11’s to their now string of hotels or the Sanchez meal on wheels to their restaurants and housing units. Yes the working class does thrive here while the flojo Americanos move to where their complaining culture can invest in the wide open spaces that they will change into what they were initially complaining about. The reality is that here is great for those who want to work and participate in whatever their culture may be. That said, we do live in an expanding universe and some will have to move.

Francesca Bolognini

I get a kick out of people who want to vilify our “blue” government for supposedly driving out the wealthy from our tax base. I have been living in this county for over 41 years and all that is happening here is build, build, build and all of it has been at the expense of more affordable housing to cater to a rapidly gentrifying population. Just what are these people on who want us to believe the state is losing money, when it is so extremely obvious that the exact opposite is happening? People are not moving to those “red” states with their below sub-par education and health care because they want to. It is usually because they can no longer afford to live here. Rents where I live are going thru the roof.

Time to get a clue that it can’t be going both ways.

Perhaps we should be taxing those ultrawealthy folks a bit more, instead of complaining about the working poor. Just a thought…..

Michael A.

:People population falling, automobile population on the other hand is rising.


Tax payers have been leaving the State for decades, tax takers have been migrating here to replace them and more!!!

This is the first time the tax takers haven’t kept up with the pace!!!

It won’t last long though with the new open border administration:(

Francesca Bolognini

OH Boy. Excellent deployment of “talking points” here. However, the truth is that most of those who are undocumented are not only unqualified and therefore do not receive benefits from the State, they also pay into these funds, such as Social Security whilst working for a minimum payment to do many of our essential and hard labor tasks. You are the one who will benefit from their labor, yet again. If you see this as something to be resentful of, I cannot imagine the state of your heart. The “open border” delusion is a nice touch to add validity to your position, though.


If the state is losing population, why are our local cities building everything everywhere as quickly as possible?


Because 5,000 less residents in SLO county is NOT going to solve the housing shortage. Talk to any local realtor, housing demand is still very high. Basic S&D theory here.


Well, that’s a pretty good start.


Good. 53,000 fewer College enrollments sold to the highest bidder can now be filled by Californians if this is accurate.