Orange County's population increased by more than 20,000 people last year, while the population of neighboring Los Angeles County grew by a scant 1,419 residents, the smallest expansion for Los Angeles County in more than 20 years, the Census Bureau reported Thursday.
Without an influx of more than 100,000 immigrants last year, Los Angeles County would have posted a substantial population decline. People moved out of Los Angeles County at a considerably faster rate than they moved in, with 217,000 departing for other destinations in the United States.
But the county grew because of a net increase in the number of migrants and because the number of babies born in Los Angeles County exceeded the number of people who died.
The county's population on July 1, 1995, was 9,138,789, compared to 9,137,370 a year before.
Orange County's population grew by 23,788, to 2,563,971, during the 12 months ending last July 1, and Riverside County posted the state's biggest increase, rising 25,294 to a total of 1,379,801.
Orange County is experiencing a much more robust expansion than Los Angeles County--6.4% during the last five years--because of births and immigration.
Like the state and Los Angeles County, Orange County has more residents moving out than entering from other U.S. locations. The net domestic migration was 152,000 in the last five years, including a loss of more than 26,000 residents to other areas last year. Immigration to Orange County was 20,000.
The surge in population seen during the 1980s and the early part of this decade has slowed dramatically, both for the state and for Los Angeles County.
California figures have stabilized at a sharply lower level in the past two years, said Ed Byerly, a Census Bureau demographer.
The state's population rose a modest 180,680 during the year ending July 1, marking the second straight year of growth below 200,000. That is in sharp contrast with the average gain of more than 500,000 a year in the 1980s.
During the last five years, California has lost 1.5 million residents to other states, including 382,000 last year. Los Angeles County lost 217,000 residents to other states last year. The net growth for California has come from the same factors seen in the county: the surplus of births over deaths, plus immigration.
Los Angeles County is now growing much more slowly than the state, at a rate of 3.1% during the last five years, half the 6.2% rate for the state.
The gain in Los Angeles County's population during the year ended last July 1 was the smallest since 1973, when the county actually had a drop in population of 16,000.
The tiny increase in total population for Los Angeles County "is something very striking," said Linda Gage, director of the demographic research institute at the state Department of Finance in Sacramento. "I don't have intelligent speculation" on the causes or the accuracy of the numbers, she said.
The Finance Department is now revising its methods for calculating population and expects to have new figures available in May.
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 drivers' licenses.
But the picture will not be clear until Sacramento gets figures from other states where Californians have applied for licenses.
The Census Bureau bases its state migration figures on federal tax returns, and the returns being used are 2 years old, Gage said.
San Francisco was the lone loser among the state's major counties, with population dipping to 730,570, a decline of 606 people.