Experts explain what's behind California's historic drop in population

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- In 2020, a year dominated by the pandemic, California's population fell by 182,083. It's the first time in California's recorded history, that the state's year-over-year population dropped.

On Friday, the state's Department of Finance announced a .46% drop in the population to just under 39.5 million people.

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Randy White moved his family from Mountain View, CA to Tulsa, Oklahoma five months ago. "I just decided to take a risk and go to Oklahoma. I was really cramped in our two-bedroom apartment."

White says he found a grant program called Tulsa Remote that gave him $10,000 to relocate and he now has a four-bedroom house, where he works remotely for Stanford's IT department. "From my personal experience, actually moving, it was like the wild west, there were U-Hauls everywhere leaving the state."

In Tulsa, White has space for a home office and can afford to send his daughter to daycare, which he said was too expensive in Mountain View.

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But California's cost of living and new work from home lifestyles weren't the only factors in the population decline.

"2020 was such a unique year. We did not have any immigration or very little immigration coming in, we had 50,000 Californians die and we weren't seeing as many kids being born, so it's not surprising that we saw a small decline," said State Senator Scott Wiener, who consistently points out that California's lack of affordable housing continues to create problems, especially in the Bay Area.

Of the ten largest California cities, San Francisco and San Jose saw some of the biggest declines in population, while Oakland made modest gains in 2020.

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"It is middle income and working-class people who don't see a future for themselves here in terms of being able to afford a home. So we need to build a lot more housing in the Bay Area and California overall. We want to stop building sprawl and build more in places like San Francisco, Oakland, and Walnut Creek, and Burlingame, and San Jose, Cupertino, where the jobs are, where the transit is," said Sen. Wiener.

According to state data, immigration restrictions during the pandemic resulted in a loss of 100-thousand people. But California's Department of Finance says the state is expected to return to a slightly positive annual growth.

RELATED: California reports first yearly population decline in its history, a drop of more than 182K people

"Assuming we get back to normal immigration perspective, we might actually see higher than the last couple of years growth. I would almost expect that to a certain extent as people catch up to some of the pausing," said Walter Schwarm, the chief demographer for California's Department of Finance.

As for White and his family...

Kate Larsen: "Is there anything that would bring you back to California?
Randy White: "Possibly family, although they're looking at moving too.... It's really hard to justify going back, especially in the South Bay, it's so expensive."
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