California population sees biggest growth since 2004, state estimates

California's population totaled more than 38.2 million in July, up 0.9% from July 2012, the state estimates. Above, passengers get off a Red Line train at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

California’s population grew by 332,000 between July 2012 and July 2013 -- the largest yearly increase in nearly a decade, according to estimates released Thursday by the California Department of Finance.

Most of the growth was “natural increase” -- births minus deaths -- rather than more people pouring into California from elsewhere, the data indicate.

Nearly 170,000 people came to California from other countries, but nearly 103,000 left for other parts of the United States during the same period, according to the new estimates.


All in all, the population grew by 0.88%, reaching more than 38.2 million in July. That’s the highest growth rate since the year spanning July 2003 to July 2004, well before the recession, the Department of Finance announced.

However, “even in the boom period, we had really slow growth, which was kind of weird,” said Dowell Myers, USC professor of public policy. The new numbers show that “at least we’re not in a bust anymore.”

“But the return to normal is still crawling at a snail’s pace,” Myers said.

The state also released population estimates for California counties: Los Angeles County had the biggest growth in sheer numbers, gaining some 74,000 people, but the fastest-growing counties on a percentage basis were Alameda, Santa Clara, Santa Barbara, Placer and Kern, each growing more than 1%, according to state estimates.

Echoing the statewide trend, the bulk of the population growth in Los Angeles County was the result of births, instead of being driven by migration. Roughly 55,900 people were estimated to have moved to Los Angeles County from other countries, but nearly as many left the county for elsewhere in the U.S.

Unlike the statewide pattern, Los Angeles County population growth was slightly slower than in the previous year, according to the estimates. The population grew 0.75% in the latest year, compared with 0.85% between July 2011 and July 2012.

The Department of Finance creates its annual estimates using a passel of government data, including records from the California Department of Motor Vehicles, housing data from local governments and information about federal income tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service.


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