County's Growth Up 0.9%, Slowest Rate in Decades, Census Reports

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Reflecting the lasting effects of a statewide recession, Ventura County grew at its slowest rate in decades last fiscal year, the U. S. Census Bureau reported Thursday.

The census estimates that the county grew by only 6,255 residents to 710,018 during the year ending July 1. That 0.9% increase is just one-third the rate experienced during the 1980s boom and by far the lowest since annual record keeping began in 1960.

Still, Ventura County grew faster than the region and the state in 1994-95, with only Riverside County's rate outstripping this county's in Southern California. Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties grew hardly at all.

Over the first half of this decade, Ventura County has grown by about 41,000 residents, or 6.1%, nearly the pace of all of California, the census reported.

However, state and local demographers said annual federal updates of the 1990 U. S. census may reflect trends that have already come and gone.

"We believe that they're using the best data; it's just a little outdated," said Linda Gage, chief of the demographic research unit at the state Department of Finance.

The state's own yearly estimates for nearly the same period are higher, she said. For example, the new federal census estimate for California is 31.6 million, about 755,000 less than the most recent state figure.

For Ventura County, the federal figure is 10,500 lower than the state's 720,500 estimate. In both cases, the state figures are as of January 1995, while the census numbers are as of July 1995.

For the last two official census counts--in 1980 and 1990--the state estimates for the same years have proved more accurate than federal estimates, Gage said.

The practical effect of year-to-year disparities is negligible, even though some federal money is distributed by population, officials said.

"There are allocations on the federal and state levels where population can be a small piece of the overall formula," said Bert Bigler, the county's chief deputy administrative officer. "But there is not any allocation that I know of based solely on population."

Population estimates are widely used by cities and counties as they update growth plans. But Ventura County Planner Steve Wood, who analyzes census data, said he relies on state estimates.

"I think they are probably more accurate," he said. "We'll be waiting for the Department of Finance estimates to come out in May before we make changes."

He said the Census Bureau's estimated increase of 6,522 residents does not add up because Ventura County's population will grow by 7,000 to 8,000 every year because births outnumber deaths 3 to 1.

"In addition to the natural increase, I believe there has been a certain amount of in-migration the last couple of years," Wood said.

Federal demographer Ed Byerly, author of the new census estimates, said both state and federal estimates rely on the same birth and death records.

The most volatile element in estimating populations are domestic and international migrations, he said. The U. S. census determines the movements of U. S. residents partly through addresses on Internal Revenue Service and Medicare documents.

Those records are current to 1994 for the 1995 estimate, other census officials said.

By contrast, the state bases its estimates on changes in such data as school enrollment, voter registrations, drivers' licenses, registered autos, housing units, natural gas hookups and income tax returns.

The finance department is now revising its methods for calculating population and expects to release January 1996 figures in May.

During the last five years, California has lost 1.5 million residents to other states, including 382,000 last year. The net growth for California has come from the surplus of births over deaths, plus immigration.

Despite the census report, California may once again be resuming its traditional role as a magnet for residents of other states, Gage said. There has been a surge in the last few months in the number of people from other states applying for California driver's licenses, a good indicator of population movements.

"We're looking at the flows, and the trend is much more positive," she said.

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Population Growth Slows

Ventura County's population rose last year by the smallest number in decades, the U. S. Census Bureau reports. The county still grew at a faster rate than the region and the state. Here is a look at how the county and other areas fared:

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July 1, 1994 July 1, 1995 United States 260,350,000 262,755,000 California 31,408,473 31,589,153 Ventura 703,763 710,018 Other California counties: Los Angeles County 9,137,370 9,138,789 San Diego 2,631,047 2,644,132 Orange 2,540,183 2,563,971 San Bernardino 1,553,537 1,569,586 Riverside 1,354,507 1,379,801 Alameda 1,319,122 1,323,312 Sacramento 1,096,697 1,103,499 Contra Costa 862,610 872,099 Fresno 730,720 737,289 San Francisco 731,176 730,570

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Source: U. S. Census Bureau

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