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More flee state than move in

Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

California's population continued to grow modestly in the last fiscal year despite a significant exodus of residents to other states, according to a state report released Wednesday.

The annual study by the Department of Finance showed that 89,000 more people moved out of California than moved here from elsewhere in the United States. California's population did grow in fiscal 2007 -- but the growth rested on births and the arrival of more than 200,000 immigrants from other countries.

The shift dovetails with the state's weakening economy and is most likely related, said Howard Roth, chief economist for the Department of Finance.

Those who left, Roth said, were fleeing an economy in which just 5,800 jobs per month were created -- down from more than 20,000 per month the previous year. Jobs were lost in housing, finance, construction and other sectors, and key indicators like the number of automobiles sold were also down, he said.

People who are leaving the state, he said, are probably doing so because they believe they'll do better elsewhere.

"If you're someone in finance and you haven't already been laid off . . . or if you've lost your job here and maybe your house, maybe you're thinking that there are better prospects out there in other states," he said.

The trend toward reduced "domestic migration" -- which began in 2005 and has increased dramatically since -- is a sharp turnaround from nearly a decade of sustained population growth.

While the state lost many residents during the economic downturn of the 1990s, people had been steadily moving to California from other states since 1999.

But once the housing bubble burst, the trend reversed.

The story was repeated in Southern California, where every county except Riverside and San Diego saw a decrease in "domestic migration."

In Los Angeles County alone, nearly 115,000 fewer residents came from other states and California counties than moved to other states and counties. The county ended up with a total increase in population thanks to 91,000 births and an influx of 70,000 residents from foreign countries. (The county now has roughly 10,294,000 residents).

Since 2000, about 500,000 more people have left Los Angeles County than have moved here from other parts of the U.S. and California, the figures show.

Orange County also had a modest increase of about 23,000 people overall, though there was a deficit of about 22,000 residents among those who moved to or from other parts of the U.S. (Orange County's population is 3,098,000). The picture in Ventura County was similar: an increase of 7,700 people overall to a total population of 827,000, but a deficit of 3,100 among people who moved domestically.

Many of those who left Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties moved to the Inland Empire, according to economist Roth. Riverside County, for example, showed a net increase in the number of people moving in from other parts of the state or country, as well as an increase of 61,000 people overall. Still, the county's overall growth rate of 3.3% was slower than the year before, when the population climbed by 4.26%.

The slowdown in Inland Empire growth will probably get worse next year as regional housing sales continue to slow, said John Husing, an economist who studies Inland Empire counties.

The number of houses sold in Riverside and San Bernardino counties in the first quarter of 2007 was about half the number sold in the first quarter of 2006, he said.

"The slowdown in the housing market attacks the fundamental strength of the Inland economy," Husing said. "I personally think we're heading into a recession here."

The report placed the state's population as of July 1 at 37,771,000 people. It added about 438,000 residents in the previous year.

Linda Gage, the state demographer who put together this year's report, said officials started with census figures, and then used such information as school registration, new birth certificates, driver's license applications and tax records to determine how many people have moved to the state and where they came from.

Gage said state's population has been boosted by births. There were 327,000 more births than deaths in California -- and that has helped mask those leaving the state.

The exodus is in some ways similar to the early 1990s, when a national recession, tumbling housing market and massive cutbacks in Southern California's defense industry at the end of the Cold War prompted 1.2 million people to move to other states.

But Roth said the trend should be less severe this time because the state's economic problems -- and image problems -- are not as great.

"It won't be the lasting problem we had in the 1990s," Roth said. "It will go away."

sharon.bernstein@latimes.com

paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

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