California still most populous, but stalls at 39.9 million

More people are leaving California than moving in, evidence of the toll the state's housing crisis is taking as the world's fifth largest economy inches toward 40 million people.

An estimate released Friday by the California Department of Finance put the California's population at 39.96 million, just shy of the 40 million milestone demographers had predicted the state would have passed by now.

The report shows California added more than 180,000 people when accounting for births and deaths for the 12 month period ending July 1. But when you include people who moved in and out of the state, California lost 39,500.

State officials say it is the first time since the 2010 census that more people left California than moved in over the course of a year, contributing to the state's slowest recorded growth rate since 1900.

“People won't move here because they can't afford to come in the door,” said Dowell Myers, professor of policy, planning and demography at the University of Southern California. “The jobs are there. The people aren't there.”

More than 158,000 people moved to California over the 12 month period that ended July 1. But more than 197,000 people left.

“I think it’s so important to remember that even when things are tough, we still see a lot of people moving to California,” said Eddie Hunsinger, a demographer with the state Department of Finance.

California's unemployment rate is at arecord low3.9% - reflecting a 117-month job expansion not seen since shortly after World War II. Through November, California was issuing building permits for 112,000 new housing units a month, down from an average of 121,000 through the same time period in 2018.

Meanwhile, California's homeless population has continued to swell, jumping 16.7% in January according to surveys approved by the federal government.

The migration loss has been a boon to other states, particularly Nevada. Last month, it passed the 3 million population mark as the U.S. Census Bureau ranked it as the fastest-growing state in 2018 - mostly because of Californians moving in.

Robert Lang, executive director of Brookings Mountain West at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said there are more adults in Nevada that were born in California than native Nevadans.

California's population nearly tripled in the last half of the 20th century and is now the world's fifth-largest economy. It remains by far the most populous state in the country, with second-place Texas still shy of 30 million people.

Yet the state's growth has leveled off. It's 0.35% growth rate for the 12 months ending July 1 is down from a 0.57% rate for the prior 12 months, the two slowest growth rates in recorded history.

State officials blamed the declining growth rate on an aging population combined with lower migration from foreign countries and more people leaving the state. Births continued to decline, falling by more than 9,000.

“I'm starting to get a sense that this is a trend,” Hunsinger said. "I wouldn't say it's concerning ... . We have a larger share of the population that is 50-plus, and so with that we see this sort of general tendency toward slower population growth.”

Los Angeles County lost 9,698 people, but remains the most populous county in the state - and the nation - at more than 10.2 million people.

Butte County lost 10,388 people, the largest percentage decrease in the state - a testament to the lingering effects of a 2018 fire in the town of Paradise that killed 85 people, destroyed more than 14,600 housing units and displaced an estimated 35,700 people.

Official state estimates predict California will hit 50 million people by 2055, predicting by then the state will join Japan and European countries as having more deaths than births.