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State Growth Gains Momentum; Migration, Economy Credited

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

California’s population growth rate rose again during the year ending July 1, but growth in the rest of the West slowed, according to new estimates being released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The report shows that California, the nation’s most populous state, grew by 1.5% during the 12-month period--its highest rate since 1992 and well above the national rate of 1%. It also had the largest increase in residents of any state--484,000--creating a total population of about 33 million.

Officials in Sacramento believe that the state is growing at an even brisker pace.

H.D. Palmer, assistant director for the Department of Finance, said the state’s calculations through mid-1998--which won’t be out until early next year--figure to show a growth rate of 1.8% or higher.

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The gap between the state and federal figures reflects different methods. While the Census Bureau relies on tax returns to determine where people are living, the state also factors in driver’s license data, Palmer said.

Discussing California’s growth, Census Bureau demographer Marc Perry said that in the early and mid-1990s “much of the population growth in the rest of the West was due to a truly phenomenal amount of domestic out-migration to other Western states from California.”

But “with far fewer people leaving California now,” he said, “this source of population growth for other Western states just isn’t there anymore. As a result, population growth rates in other Western states have dropped in recent years.”

Nevada, however, is a special case, statisticians said. Although its growth rate slowed, Nevada remained the nation’s fastest-growing state for the 13th straight year.

For the same 12-month period, Nevada’s population grew by 4.1%, down from 4.9% in the previous year. Overall, the report showed that Nevada’s population has increased by a staggering 45.4% since 1990, growing from 1.2 million residents to 1.7 million.

Arizona followed Nevada in its rate of population growth, increasing by 2.5%. The other fastest-growing states were Georgia and Colorado, at 2% each, and Texas, 1.9%.

Overall, the West ranked as the country’s fastest-growing region, with an increase of 1.6% for a total population of about 60 million.

Perry said the California upsurge “is clearly what you’d expect given the economic upturn in recent years. The state’s had fairly steady growth since 1994.”

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The previous year’s growth was 1.3%, he said, after three years of less than 1% expansion. The latest figures for California counties, ranked by numeric change in population, are Los Angeles, up 132,400 to 9.6 million people; San Diego, up 65,700 to 2.8 million; Orange, up 44,800 to 2.7 million; and Riverside, up 40,800 to 1.4 million.

Some economists said vibrant job growth, profit-taking in the stock market and high consumer confidence have fueled the state’s economy and population surge. California once again has become a magnet for those seeking employment, analysts said.

The state’s burgeoning housing market is also stoked in part by demand among Latino and Asian immigrants, who make up 20% of buyers and are remaking many communities in Southern California.

The census figures, in fact, showed that California had the highest rate, 0.8%, of migration from foreign countries. Other areas with high rates of international migration were the District of Columbia, New York and New Jersey (0.7%) and Florida (0.5%).

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In addition, California ranked among the top five states with the highest rates of natural population increase (births minus deaths). In order of rank, they were Utah (1.5%), Alaska (1.2%), Texas (1%), California (0.9%) and Hawaii (0.9%).

Although many issues help explain California’s growth rate, Palmer said, “clearly what’s gone on with our economy” in the last few years is the biggest factor, with strong gains in computer software, construction, exports and a host of other fields.

“It’s really a sign of California’s economic recovery,” he said. “Since the recession bottomed out, we’ve created more than 1.6 million jobs in this state. Businesses have found that California, over the last eight years, has become a more business-friendly state.

“When you’ve got an economy creating the kinds of jobs that California has, you’re going to see the U-hauls start coming back into the state,” Palmer said.

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California saw a net gain in domestic migration in mid-1997 for the first time since 1991, meaning more people were moving into the state than out.

Population growth is not an unmixed blessing, authorities noted. Although it has gone hand-in-hand with a rising economy, it puts added strain on schools, courts, law enforcement and the state’s highway system, and it adds to the demand for federal funds for health, welfare and other needs.

“We still think [federal officials] are a little bit behind what’s really going on in the state,” Palmer said.

Earlier this month, state legislative analyst Elizabeth Hill called on lawmakers and Gov.-elect Gray Davis to earmark nearly $16 billion over the next 10 years for improvements to California’s aging and ailing public works system.

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In a report, Hill, the Legislature’s nonpartisan budget advisor, said demands by California’s burgeoning population on an increasingly stressed infrastructure will intensify and require huge expenditures in public works. In 40 years, the state will have nearly twice as many people as in 1990, according to a study released by the California Department of Finance.

Jackson reported from Washington and Lichtblau from Los Angeles. Times researcher Tricia Ford contributed to this story.

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West Leads in Growth

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Western states had higher population growth rates than other areas of the country in the year ending July 1, 1998, according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau. Nevada led the nation in population growth for the 13th year in a row, while California, after losing population to other states for the past few years, grew at a rate 50% faster than the national average.

National Population Growth Rate: 1%

West Growth Rate: 1.6%

Midwest Growth Rate: 0.4%

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Northeast Growth Rate: 0.3%

South Growth Rate: 1.3%

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Here are fastest-growing states in each section of the United States and how those states compare regionally and nationally.

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West

Nevada: 4.1%

California: 1.5%

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Midwest

Kansas: 1.1%

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South

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Georgia: 2.0%

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Northeast

New Hampshire: 1.1%

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Source: Census Bureau

Researched by TRICIA FORD / Los Angeles Times


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