Runaway Population Growth


California grew in population by the size of Delaware in the year ending last July 1. Since the 1980 census, the Golden State has added the equivalent population of a Maryland, a Louisiana, a Minnesota or a Washington State. Just two decades ago, California was running neck and neck with New York to be the nation’s most populous state. Today, California has 10 million more residents than No. 2 New York.

The state’s growth is impressive. It is phenomenal. It is challenging.

California’s population is estimated by the state Department of Finance to be 28.3 million, a record increase of 662,000 over the previous year and up 4.6 million from the official federal census in 1980. Today, one of every nine Americans lives in California. If the state were to keep growing at the current rate of 2.5% a year, its population would surpass 30 million by 1992 and be nudging 40 million by the turn of the century.


California has about 10 million more residents than Australia and New Zealand combined. The state passed Canada in population several years ago, as well as all of Scandinavia, including Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden.

Southern California is growing faster than the state as a whole. Of the five largest counties, only Santa Clara (San Jose) is in Northern California. Riverside and San Bernardino are growing at the fastest rate of the state’s larger counties. San Bernardino replaced Alameda (Oakland) as California’s fifth most-populous county while Riverside surpassed Sacramento for seventh place.

It is no surprise that coping with growth in a rational, systematic way is California’s major challenge. It is a challenge that will not go away.