Los Angeles hits a milestone: 4 million people and counting

Downtown Los Angeles is viewed from Hilltop Park in Signal Hill.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles gained 42,470 people from 2016 to 2017.

That might not seem like a lot, but it was enough to push the city’s population over the 4-million mark — to 4,041,707, according to a new state report.

The milestone isn’t much of a surprise, given that other studies already put the city’s population at 4 million. But it’s a mark that underscores Los Angeles’ place as the dominant population center in California.

The rest of the Top 10:

  • San Diego: 1,406,318
  • San Jose: 1,046,079
  • San Francisco: 874,228
  • Fresno: 525,832
  • Sacramento: 493,025
  • Long Beach: 480,173
  • Oakland: 426,074
  • Bakersfield: 383,512
  • Anaheim: 358,546

Here’s a look at L.A.’s path to 4 million people:


Population: 1.9 million

California was in the midst of post-World War II suburbanization. Much of the city was developed before the war, but the 1950s saw vast housing tracts going up in the San Fernando Valley.

Milestones: Los Angeles came out of World War II poised to become an economic powerhouse, thanks in part to defense spending.

Tract homes line the streets of Encino in 1950. (Associated Press)
(Associated Press)


Population: 2.4 million

As the move to more suburban neighborhoods continued, the city’s population surged. Signs of decline in the central city, however, were becoming apparent.

Milestones: Disneyland opened in Anaheim, while the Cold War fueled defense spending in Southern California.

City Hall is seen beyond the Bunker Hill neighborhood in 1960. (File photo / Los Angeles Times)
(File photo / Los Angeles Times)


Population: 2.8 million

By 1970, downtown L.A. had started to look more vertical, with the rise of skyscrapers the decade before.

Milestones: A freeway system connected Southern California in dramatic ways, and the Manson “family” murders shocked the world.

L.A. appears covered in smog in 1973. (Fitzgerald Whitney / Los Angeles Times)
(Fitzgerald Whitney / Los Angeles Times)


Population: 2.9 million

The 1980 census found whites made up less than half of the city’s residents, making L.A. a majority-minority city. While the shift had been predicted, it was notable. A Times story on the findings noted that “Hispanics” — already 28% of the population — were projected to become the largest single ethnic group in the city by 1984.

Milestones: A new skyline began to form in downtown L.A. and other areas, notably Century City; Tom Bradley was elected the city’s first black mayor.

Shoppers fill a sidewalk in downtown Los Angeles in 1980. (Larry Davis / Los Angeles Times)
(Larry Davis / Los Angeles Times)


Population: 3.4 million

The 1980s saw a boom that took many experts by surprise. It was fueled by rising Latino and Asian populations, both through immigration and births. By 1991, Latinos were the majority group in L.A.

Milestones: Los Angeles hosted the Olympics in 1984, and the city was riveted by the Lakers’ “Showtime” era. L.A. got a gleaming skyline, while income and racial disparities became more evident.

Marc Anthony entertains a downtown L.A. crowd in the 1990s. (Bob Carey / Los Angeles Times)
(Carey, Bob / Los Angeles Times)


Population: 3.6 million

Growth slowed again in the 1990s, as the region was hit by a severe recession, riots and the Northridge earthquake.

Milestones: Defense downsizing and corporate consolidation sent the city into a tailspin that was worsened by riots and natural disasters.

Throngs of fans crowd the streets during a Lakers parade in 2000. (Lori Shepler / Los Angeles Times)
(Lori shepler / Los Angeles Times)


Population: 3.7 million

The most recent full census found modest population growth marked by continued increases in L.A.’s diversity.

Milestones: Gentrification began to take hold in downtown and other areas. Downtown’s rebirth is symbolized by the opening of Walt Disney Concert Hall.

The exterior of Disney Hall is seen on Aug. 15, 2013. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)


Population: 4 million

The region’s population has continued to increase, but a lack of housing is becoming a bigger issue. While L.A. is adding more and denser housing, experts say it’s not keeping pace with demand.

Milestones: Downtown’s skyline is being reshaped by new skyscrapers, and the L.A. River has become a destination, with restoration and parkland additions.

An aerial view shows downtown Los Angeles in 2010. (John W. Adkisson / Los Angeles Times)
(John W. Adkisson / Los Angeles Times )


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11:40 p.m.: This article was updated with a timeline entry for 2017.

This article was originally published at 9:50 a.m.