New population estimates show California's births fell by 18,000 last year, prompting the slowest recorded growth rate in the country's most populous state.
State officials said Wednesday the population stood at 39.9 million as of Jan. 1. The state added nearly 187,000 people in 2018 for a growth rate of 0.47%, the slowest since records began in 1900. The sluggish rate was driven by a significant drop in births and an uptick in deaths as the baby boomer generation ages.
Still, California remains the country's most populous state by far. Texas, the next most populous state, is still shy of 30 million people.
Ethan Sharygin, a demographer with the state Department of Finance, noted births have declined faster than expected. He said one reason is fewer people are coming to California from Mexico, where birth rates are higher. Instead, more people are coming from places like China, where birth rates are lower.
California's population estimates come as the state is preparing for the 2020 census, an important head count used to distribute federal tax dollars and decide congressional representation. State officials are concerned many Hispanics won't be counted if the Trump administration succeeds in placing a citizenship question on the census form.
State Attorney General Xavier Becerra has filed a lawsuit seeking to block the question. California has the largest Hispanic population in the country with more than 15 million people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The devastating wildfires in 2018 destroyed more than 14,600 housing units, including 90% of the housing stock in Paradise. The result is a population boom in the nearby cities. Chico added 19,000 people, the largest gain in the state, while Sacramento was second with an additional 7,400 people.
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State officials expect California to continue to grow, predicting the state's population could top 50 million by 2055. Official forecasts show the state's population getting steadily older as the birth rate continues falling.
By 2051, officials project the state will join Japan and other European countries by having more deaths than births.