Los Angeles Slips Below 2010 Population: New State of California Estimates


The state Department of Finance (DOF) has reported, in its official population estimates, that California continued to lose population during calendar year 2022, with a population of 39,840,000 on January 1, 2023, down from 138,000 from its January 1, 2022 population. This is more than the previous year’s loss of 118,000.

However, population losses are unusual in a state that has historically enjoyed steady and sometime exceptional growth. But for more than two decades, an exodus has been mounting and often questioned by exodus deniers. More than 1,000,000 more people moved to somewhere else in the United States in both the 2000s and the 2010s, and just since the 2020 census, another nearly 900,000more residents left than arrived. The total reported Census Bureau net domestic migration loss was 3.475 million — more than the combined 2022 population of the cities of Chicago and Washington, DC. This is an astounding development in a state that had, between 1950 and 2020, gained approximately as many residents as the second largest state, Texas had in 2020 (29 million).

Los Angeles County

California’s largest losses have been in the nation’s most populous county, Los Angeles. The dominance of Los Angeles County has been remarkable. Since 1950, the county’s population rose from 4.151 million to 10.014 million, its gain being larger than the population that lives in the second ranked county in the nation — Cook in Illinois, where Chicago is located. With about one-quarter of the state’s population, Los Angeles County has accounted for nearly two thirds of the state’s net domestic migration loss since 2000 (2,230 million).

According to the new state estimates, the Los Angeles County population has fallen below its 2010 census count (down 58,000 from 9.810 million in 2010 to 9.761 million in 2023, a 0.046 percent annual loss). The loss since the 2020 census has been 253,000 (minus 2.5 percent).

The population loss in the last year has been pervasive in Los Angeles County — only 5 of the 88 cities (municipalities) gained population between 2022 and 2023.

City of Los Angeles

The city of Los Angeles has less than 40 percent of the county population. Its recent losses have been marginally greater than that of Los Angeles County. Like Los Angeles County, the city of Los Angeles has fallen below its 2010 census population, to 3.766 million in 2023 from 3.793 million in 2010, a loss of 132,000 since the 2020 census. Since 2010, the population has declined an average of 0.056 percent, slightly more than the Los Angeles County rate.

The city of Los Angeles has been nearing 4 million residents for more than 15 years. The State Department of Finance estimated the city’s population at 4.046 million in 2007, yet the subsequent 2010 census registered a count about 250,000 lower. According to the US Census Bureau, the city’s population peaked at 3,983 million in 2019.

Outside the City of Los Angeles

Areas in Los Angeles County outside the city account for more than 60 percent of the population, with 5.995 million residents. This is a loss of 31,000 from the 2020 Census, below the percentage loss of the city of Los Angeles.

Orange County

The Los Angeles metropolitan area includes both Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Orange County lost 50,000 residents from the 2020 census to 2023, for an annual loss rate of 1.6 percent, less than Los Angeles County but shocking for what has long been a major growth regime. Ten of the county’s 34 cities had population increases between 2022 and 2023. This is also better than Los Angeles County, but still illustrates pervasive losses.

Two of the three largest cities in Orange County have fallen below their 2010 census population. Anaheim has dropped from 336,000 in 2010 to 329,000 in 2023, for an annual loss rate of 0.165 percent. Santa Ana, the third largest city, and one of the densest in the United States, has fallen from 325,000 in 2010 to 299,000 in 2023, losing an average of 0.625 percent annually. Both of these loss rates are greater than the city of Los Angeles.

The second largest city in Orange County is Irvine, which had a 2.8 percent annual growth rate from 2010 to 2023. This high growth rate was made possible by the city’s substantial greenfield area and the continuing preference by households of comparatively lower densities as well as the city’s strong schools, low crime rate and ample open space.

San Francisco Bay Area

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the combined statistical area (CSA) as defined by the federal government, the counties close or on the coast all lost population, including Napa, Sonoma, Solano, Santa Cruzall lost population. Two of the three counties added to the CSA since 2010 gained population, San Joaquin [Stockton] and Merced gained, while Stanislaus (Modesto) lost.

San Francisco, which is both a city and a county, also lost between 2022 and 2023, falling from 837,000 to 832,000. San Francisco’s population is now more than 40,000 below its 2020 Census figure of 874,000. All of the other counties in the San Francisco metropolitan area also lost population, including Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin and San Mateo.

The city of San Jose, the third largest city in the state, peaked with a population of 1,037,000 in the middle 2010s. In 2023, San Jose is estimated to have a population of 960,000, down 78,000 from its peak. This 7.5% loss from peak was the largest of any city in the state with more than 200,000 residents.

The Interior

The one part of the state that has not experienced pervasive population loss is the interior, which we labeled the “Interior and Valleys” in a recent article examining the modern history of California population growth. This is the central valleys from Shasta County to Kern County as well as San Bernardino, Riverside and Imperial Counties. There were 11 Interior and Valleys counties that gained population last year, out of the total of 25. This 40 percent of the Interior and Valleys counties gaining population overshadows the one of 11 (6 percent) Coastal counties (Santa Rosa to San Diego County), in which only one county gained (San Benito). None of the other counties in the area had gains.

Where Growth Will Occur?

If population growth returns to California, it seems likely that it will occur in the interior, where recent population trends have been the least unfavorable, and nearly all the growth last year (albeit modest). A principal factor lies in the fact that the cost-of-living crisis there is considerably less severe than on the Coast.

Note: The California Department of Finance population estimates are reconciled to US Census Bureau figures in decennial census, but differ at other times, since the methodologies differ.

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy firm located in the St. Louis metropolitan area. He is a founding senior fellow at the Urban Reform Institute, Houston, a Senior Fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy in Winnipeg and a member of the Advisory Board of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University in Orange, California. He has served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers in Paris. His principal interests are economics, poverty alleviation, demographics, urban policy and transport. He is co-author of the annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey and author of Demographia World Urban Areas.

Mayor Tom Bradley appointed him to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission (1977-1985) and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich appointed him to the Amtrak Reform Council, to complete the unexpired term of New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman (1999-2002). He is author of War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life and Toward More Prosperous Cities: A Framing Essay on Urban Areas, Transport, Planning and the Dimensions of Sustainability.

Photo: Largest Interior Valley — San Joaquin Valley from the north (by author).

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Would be interesting to have micro picture of where this depopulation in LA county and city is happening--which neighborhoods are changing and how. No kids where once there were? I doubt there are many abandoned homes in what remains a tight real estate market.