COVID-19 pandemic may have significant impacts on population growth in California

The COVID-19 pandemic could have significant impacts on population growth in California, due to reduced immigration, as well as reduced birth rates due to the massive economic impacts.  This should be taken into account in planning for future infrastructure needs, including water supply infrastructure.

The demographic projections by the Department of Finance in the Governor’s 2020-21 Budget showed a significant reduction in forecasted population growth, stating:

Recently updated population projections reflect decreased expectations for future population growth. The net annual population increase is expected to fall to less than 100,000 by 2045, and close to zero net growth by 2060. Fewer births lead to fewer adults, which compounds the slowing growth over time. The current projections series reach a total population of 45 million by 2060, rather than 50 million in the previous iteration.   (2020-21 Full Budget Summary, p. 206.)

Annual population 20-21 budget proj
Projected Annual Population Growth, 2020-21 Budget

If net migration continues to be close to zero, rather than increasing as projected by the Department of Finance in December of 2019, projected population growth would decrease significantly.  In discussing the projections DOF also noted:

The new projections assume the state reverts to net migration flows of around 100,000 per year in the long term, in line with the average during 2010 through 2019… In a scenario with zero net migration, the state’s population peaks at 42 million in 2038 and thereafter declines to 40 million by 2060. (2020-21 Full Budget Summary, p. 207.)

If there is a prolonged, deep recession, birth rates could also be reduced. A study by Brian Finch et. al. of adverse birth outcomes in California during the Great Recession found that the total fertility rate declined just prior to the Great Recession in 2007, and leveled off from 2010 to 2012. Those with a less than High School Education had sharp declines in birth rates after the start of the Great Recession.

While the long term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the California economy and on immigration are still uncertain, it also seems clear that assumptions of future growth in California based on pre-pandemic population trends should be re-examined, as should water supply planning based on those assumptions.

See related commentary from Dan Walters on May 21:

California population may be peaking


This post was updated on May 31, 2020 to include links to Dan Walters’ commentary.

Leave a Reply