Much of the state's population growth was concentrated in coastal… (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles…)
California's population has grown to 37.8 million, continuing the state's trend of slowing but steady growth — about 1% annually — over the last decade, according to new population estimates released by the state Department of Finance.
The population increased by 256,000 people since July 2011, a growth rate of 0.7%. It's roughly the same growth rate as last year, but some experts pointed to an uptick in the number of people moving in and out of California and between counties as a sign of economic recovery.
"We've been mired in this deep slump, economically and demographically, and we're all looking for signs of revival," said USC demography and urban planning professor Dowell Myers. "During the recession, everyone froze. People didn't move as fast as normal."
In Los Angeles County, more people moved out than into the county in 2011, but at a significantly slower rate than in 2010, the state numbers show.
"Overall, movements are speeding up in both directions, but L.A.'s attraction is winning the war," said Myers, who also noticed an increase in movement in the entire western region, particularly among young adults. "It means the system is unfreezing, it's loosening up....This is the beginning."
Recent estimates by the American Community Survey showed that about 100,000 more Californians left the state than moved here. Most of those who left headed to Texas, Arizona and Oregon.
But state demographers cautioned that the out-of-state migration numbers may appear misleading because immigrants often enter through California before settling in other states.
"People see that so many people are leaving the state, and they think 'oh, it's because California business is bad,' " said Bill Schooling, chief of demographics research for the state Department of Finance. "It's more that California, particularly with counties like L.A., is a huge gateway state."
Los Angeles remains the state's most populous county, with more than 9.9 million residents. More than 26% of the state's entire population lives within the Los Angeles County limits.
Schooling noted that much of the state's population growth was concentrated in coastal counties, where people tend to be younger and more mobile.
Economists also said that job growth has been much stronger along the coast, particularly with growth in foreign trade, technology and tourism.
"The state recovery really started in the Bay Area, spread to Orange County and San Diego, and in the last six months, has spread to L.A. County," said Stephen Levy, director of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy. "Slow population growth is consistent with the early phase of recovery."
Births helped maintain the population growth, with 503,000 babies born in California between July 2011 and July 2012. There were 234,000 deaths in the state during the same time, a slight increase from past years, according to the state estimates.
Until the state becomes more stable economically, it is difficult to make long-term population projections, experts said.
"This is a step in the right direction," Myers said. "And we will, we should, have much better news next year."