After three pandemic years of population decline in California, things have turned around, and 2023 was the first year of slight population growth since 2019.

California gained 67,000 residents last year, a modest 0.17% uptick, which followed three steady years of population decline when the state went from 39,649,000 residents in January 2020 to 39,061,000 residents at the start of 2023.

The new population data comes from the state Department of Finance, which uses the decennial census combined with moving data and birth and death records to create annual estimates as of January 1. (The next annual estimate from the US Census Bureau will be as of July 1.)

The data shows San Francisco's population on the rise as well — a trend that was already apparent for the past two years. As of July 1, 2023, the Census Bureau had SF's population rising 0.15% compared to the previous July.

The CA Department of Finance has SF's population up 0.1% as of January 1, to 843,071 residents. The Census Bureau's number from last July was 808,988, which was over 7% down compared to April 2020, when the city had about 874,000 residents.

31 of California's 58 counties saw population growth last year, with Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties also seeing modest upticks. The largest growth, representing nearly half the state's net total growth in population, was in Los Angeles County, which saw 32,000 net new arrivals in 2023.

Governor Gavin Newsom put out an effusive statement Tuesday about the data, saying, "People from across the nation and the globe are coming to the Golden State to pursue the California Dream and experience the success of the world’s 5th largest economy. From the Inland Empire to the Bay Area, regions throughout California are growing — strengthening local communities and boosting our state’s future."

The growth is still not close to the 200,000 to 300,000 new residents the state was seeing every year in the last decade, but the trend is heading in that direction.

"During the pandemic, high education, high income people were leaving the state in big numbers. And that was something that hadn’t really happened before," says Eric McGee of the Public Policy Institute, speaking to Bay Area News Group. "It was about the flexibility of remote work, being able to work somewhere else where it was cheaper to live. But a lot of places are just saying, 'Hey, come back in two days a week, three days a week.' It’s just enough to keep people tied to California."

Still, a number of Bay Area cities saw net losses in population last year, including San Leandro, Daly City, Novato, and Pleasanton.

McGee adds that California probably won't return to the booming growth numbers it saw in the mid-20th Century — and larger demographic trends have more people migrating to less expensive "Sun Belt" cities in the South and Southwest like Phoenix, Austin, Houston, Atlanta, and Charlotte. "The most realistic scenario is that we’re going to be a slow-growing state," McGee tells Bay Area News Group.

Previously: SF Exodus Still Reversing: New Census Numbers Show Small Population Uptick Last Year

Photo: Andrew Whitmore