New population data from the state of California for the year 2020 finds that between COVID deaths and migration out of the state, California lost 182,000 residents — the first time in recorded state history that California's population has ever decreased.

We learned last week via the U.S. Census that California's population did not grow particularly fast over the last decade, but there was some growth overall. The slow rate of growth compared to other states cost the state a House seat for the first time, and signals that the state's housing crisis may finally be driving larger demographic changes.

The new numbers come from the California Department of Finance, looking at the population as of January 1, 2021, compared to January 1, 2020. The state now has 39,466,855, a loss of 0.46% or 182,083 residents year over year. This included 51,000 excess deaths from the pandemic.

The Bay Area lost population at about the same rate as the state, according to the data. As the Mercury News reports from the tallies, San Francisco lost almost 14,800 residents last year (a 1.7% drop), and Marin, Alameda, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties all recorded losses as well. The only Bay Area county to record an increase in population last year was Contra Costa County, which welcomed 4,001 new residents in 2020.

The CA Department of Finance tallies population numbers using recorded births and deaths, in addition to new driver’s licenses, address changes, school enrollments, and federal tax returns. Because it's not a door-to-door, household by household census like the federal one, it's subject to some inaccuracy, obviously — and as we've learned over the last six or eight months, some changes of address for San Franciscans may have only been temporary, until the pandemic got under control.

As the Associated Press reports, the death rate statewide was impacted greatly by COVID — with a 19% rise the death rate compared to the three-year average. 51 of the 58 counties posted higher-than-average death rates, with 12 counties showing increases of 20% or more.

In San Francisco, COVID deaths were less of a factor in the overall population number — less than 500 deaths had been recorded as of the new year, and there have been 538 COVID deaths in the city to date.

With rising vaccination numbers and an improving economy, the state believes California will return to its rate of "slightly positive annual growth" through the course of this year.

Photo: Andreas Strandman