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Population of State Increases to 35,591,000

For the fourth year in a row, growth exceeds 500,000 people. Demographers see little effect from California's economic downturn.

May 05, 2003|Monte Morin | Times Staff Writer

California grew by almost 600,000 people last year, the fourth year in a row that annual population growth has exceeded the half-million mark, according to state demographers.

In an annual head count conducted by the state Department of Finance and scheduled for release today, officials cited natural births and immigration as significant factors in the state's robust growth. Already the most populous state in the nation, California grew by 591,000 people in 2002, bringing its total population to 35,591,000, the report said. Also, in keeping with past counts, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Diego counties led the population increase.

The report, experts said, is notable because it suggests that a state economic downturn did little to dampen population growth. Although this year's report noted a slight decrease in the rate of growth, compared with the previous year's figure of 633,000 new residents, experts said the difference was not significant.

Author and planning expert Bill Fulton cited births of new Californians as the main reason for continued growth statewide.

"Up until the 1970s or '80s, growth was mostly from migration from other states," he said. "But now there's much more natural increase, and that means you can't shut the door on population growth. The fact is, most new residents arrive at the hospital now."

Last year's annual report by the Department of Finance was the first to note that an economic slowdown tied to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks had failed to keep annual population growth below 500,000. Since then, some demographers have said the slowdown would be much more apparent if it had hit Los Angeles as hard as it had the Bay Area.

"The big picture here is that the Bay Area is feeling the recession more strongly than the rest of the state," said Hans Johnson, a demographer with the Public Policy Institute of California.

According to the report, Los Angeles County posted the highest annual numerical population gain in the state, adding 162,200 people in 2002 for a total of 9,979,600. Next was Riverside County, which added 60,200 people for a total of 1,705,500. San Diego County ranked third in population gain, posting an increase of 53,100 for a total population of 2,961,600.

Growth figures, the report said, were determined by changes in housing stock in urban areas, birth and death counts, address changes recorded by the Department of Motor Vehicles, employment data, school enrollment figures, federal income tax summaries, data from the immigration officials and Medicare and Medicaid sources.

Among other highlights, the report noted that South Gate grew to 100,300 to become the 59th city in the state to exceed a total population of 100,000. Two counties lost population: Modoc and Plumas each declined by less than one-third of 1%.

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