New census data sheds light on changes in California
Last week, the Census Bureau released detailed data from the 2020 census that will be used to draw new political districts across the state. The bureau had previously reported California’s total population — as well as the total for all other states — in April. But the latest data release offers the first opportunity to see the official count of all the state’s diversity, and to do so in a level of geographic detail that will not be matched until the next decennial census.
California has grown so slowly over the past 10 years compared to other states that it lost a seat in Congress for the first time in its history. The map below shows population changes for the state’s 9,129 census tracts, statistical units with a maximum of 8,000 people. Many rural areas in the Far North and East actually have fewer residents than in 2010, while the eastern Bay Area, the Inland Empire east of Los Angeles and the Sacramento metropolitan area grew the most. These are all areas that offer access to urban employment centers, but with much cheaper housing.
The state also continued its decades-long trend toward greater racial/ethnic diversity. Non-Hispanic whites fell from 40.2% of the population in 2010 to 34.7% in 2020, with the share of the population declining in more than eight out of ten census tracts. In fact, three-quarters of census tracts have fewer white residents overall than 10 years ago. The number of predominantly white plots in 2020 is 3,000, up from over 3,700 in 2010.
At the same time, the Latino population increased slightly, from 37.6% to 39.4% of the state total. This shift further solidifies Latinos as the most populous group of all races and ethnicities, but it also reflects a significant slowdown in growth compared to decades past. Although the share of Latinos increased the most in the Inland Empire, 74% of regions in the state saw gains.
The growth of Asian Americans accelerated: their share rose from 12.8% to 15.1% of the population. This growth was much more geographically concentrated, with the Bay Area and Orange County seeing most of the increase. The share of Asian Americans in the population has increased by 25% or more in some areas of the Bay Area.
Other groups have been more or less static as a share of the total population. The share of African Americans fell from 5.8% to 5.4%, the share of Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians increased slightly from 0.6% to 0.7%, and the share of Native Americans and Alaska Natives remained virtually stable at around 0.4%.
Finally, the number of Californians who identify with more than one race has increased significantly, from 4.9% in 2010 to 14.6% in 2020. The vast majority of this increase has occurred among Californians who also identify as Latino, and likely reflects a shift in how the Census Bureau poses and deals with the issue of racial identification. Latinos often identify with a racial category that the Census Bureau considers non-traditional (e.g., “Mexican Indian” instead of “American Indian”), and more of those categories were captured this time. Among non-Latinos, the growth of multiracial combinations—for example, white and African American, or white and Asian American—has been much lower; although their share in the total population has increased considerably, their overall numbers remain modest.
In short, while California’s total population has grown only slightly, the state is still experiencing dramatic changes. California today is less rural and white than it was 10 years ago. It’s a transformation that has touched almost every corner of the state.