La Jolla
La Jolla / Photo by Megan Wood

This post originally appeared in the March 25 Morning Report. Subscribe for free here.

San Diego got smaller from 2020 to 2021, entirely because fewer people moved to the region than moved away from it, according to a Thursday release from the U.S. Census Bureau.

That made for three consecutive years in which San Diego had negative population growth.

Nationwide, 73 percent of counties experienced a natural population decline, meaning there were more deaths than births during the year, a trend in part driven by an increase in deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic.

But that was not true in San Diego. Here, even during the pandemic and the recession it caused, births continued to outpace deaths, with those two factors conspiring to increase the population by some 10,000 people. But domestic migration — people moving into San Diego, and San Diegans moving away — more than made up for that growth. San Diego lost more than 22,000 people through domestic migration, leading to the region’s population decreasing by about 11,000 people, or about .3 percent.

That’s consistent with general recessionary trends, said Ray Major, chief economist and deputy CEO at the San Diego Association of Governments. When the economy falters, more people flee San Diego’s high cost of living, and fewer people are willing to come deal with it.

“A person who has a decision to take a job or not, and you look at our cost of living and it’s 30 or 40 percent higher than where they’re coming from, but our wages don’t reflect that,” he said. “People have to accept a pay cut, or a lower standard of living, to come here.”

Indeed, coastal counties from Santa Barbara to San Diego all saw population loss from 2020 to 2021. Riverside County, meanwhile, saw the fifth largest population growth of all counties in the country. It added 47,000 people, or about a one percent growth rate.

Andrew Keatts is a former managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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  1. The Trump Census was flawed, evidence shows, and it undercounted minorities, probably by design. So, given San Diego’s high minority population, it seems that it would be necessary to include in this story whether Voice of San Diego has through the use of sound journalistic practices accounted for the documented inaccuracy of the 2020 Census, or is just working as a transcriptionist.

  2. Good article. I noticed most of the people who have lived here for a long time and don’t plan on leaving are people that moved here 30-40 years ago. It seems people that moved here 25 years ago or later seem to usually be the ones who are always coming and going. Sadly the young people today were born a generation too late and cannot live the same way their parents did at their age. This trend of people moving out will continue and the transience of people coming and going will continue, but there is a huge lack of people who move to SD in the last 20 years and stay in the area.

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