San Diego Union-Tribune

December 28, 2001

State's population jumps even with troubled economy

By Dana Wilkie 
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE 

WASHINGTON -- Despite California's dot-com demise, energy crisis and slowing economy, the state recently experienced its greatest population increase since the late 1980s, according to a census report being released today. 

Experts attributed the growth in large part to Southern
California's relative resilience during a time of economic trouble for the state. But they also warned that the population picture would probably change as the state's recent woes have more time to influence jobs, immigration and births.

Already the nation's most populous state, California now has an estimated 34.5 million residents -- 630,000 of whom were added between April 2000 and July 2001, the report said. That represents a 1.9 percent increase a year after the bureau concluded its once-a-decade count of people living in the country.

It was California's largest annual increase since 1989, when the population jumped by 2.6 percent from the year before.

"It's a noticeable jump in growth . . . even as there was slippage in the dot-coms and . . . the energy crisis last year that was pretty grim," said Melanie Martindale, a senior demographer with the California Department of Finance.

The 15 months measured by the Census Bureau were a time
when companies might have been discouraged from keeping
jobs in California, and when residents might have been
encouraged to leave in search of work.

Stocks were collapsing as dot-com businesses, a driving force of Silicon Valley wealth, crumbled. There were already signs of a softening economy: Profits were slowing, business investment was falling, consumer spending was dropping, and in late 2000, California's jobless rate started creeping up.

Yet construction and services industries remained strong during the period. Median home prices continued to edge up. And news of a recession did not discourage immigrants from coming to the state in search of work.

Experts said Southern California's economy -- now more
diversified after the demise of the aerospace and defense
industries -- helped it weather the state's troubles better than the north, where the Silicon Valley's dot-com meltdown quadrupled the jobless rate and affected much of the Bay Area and surrounding regions.

"(California) is so big that you have to take account of regional differences in labor markets," said Michael Teitz, director of research for the Public Policy Institute of California. "The labor market impact of the recession was so much less in the south than in the north that the impact on immigration, primarily from Mexico, probably was nowhere near as strong as you might
expect."

In recent years, the annual increase in California's population has remained at a steady 1.4 percent, while the early-to mid-1990s showed increases from 0.5 percent to 1.5 percent. The Census Bureau didn't include in these comparisons increases from 1989 to 1990 and from 1990 to 2000 because the figures for the odd years are estimates while those for the even years are actual counts done from the census.

Experts said California's recent economic troubles might be
reflected in later reports. Mary Heim, chief demographer of the California Department of Finance, said it usually takes 12 to 18 months for population figures to reflect economic changes.

"Even if people lose their jobs, they're not in Vermont two days later," said Melanie Martindale, a senior demographer. "People first exhaust their unemployment benefits. They need time to sell their homes before the move. They have kids in school. People will explore alternatives . . . before they actually move."