California Census Data Reveals Population Swings and Resettling Counties During Pandemic Period

New census data reveals that while California’s population continued to shrink, population swings have affected large and small counties across the state during the pandemic period of the last two years.[0] The result of COVID-19 health protocols, the return of employees to workplaces, new housing construction and various other factors has caused Californians to relocate quite a bit. However, many counties are now starting to resettle into the pre-pandemic status quo.

The biggest takeaway from the latest census data is that Californians relocated quite a bit in response to the pandemic and other factors, but many counties are now starting to resettle into the pre-pandemic status quo. Statewide, California’s rate of population loss also slowed, from a 0.91% drop in the first year of that data set to a 0.29% decline over the second year.

Large urban counties have not yet rebounded from population outflows experienced in 2020 and 2021, but they did nearly halt overall population loss in 2022, buoyed by more normal rates of international migration. Despite this modest softening of population losses, large urban counties’ population trends have still not normalized, and domestic outmigration is still well above rates experienced in the years immediately leading up to the pandemic. Outflows from these counties were already dramatically accelerating over the last decade, as the nation’s largest cities confronted spiraling housing cost crises and other challenges.[1]

However, the exodus gradually decelerated throughout the subsequent year until the middle of 2022.[2] Certain counties that once saw a decrease in residents are now seeing an increase in population, whereas certain rural counties are witnessing a drop in their number of inhabitants.[2] In 2022, the trend of people moving from large urban counties to suburbs and exurbs within their own country persisted, albeit with a reduced rate compared to the previous year.[1]

Overall, large urban counties continue to lose population post-pandemic, but at a more modest pace. Consistent with this, work-from-home-related fundamentals remained important drivers of population shifts in 2022 but less than they were in 2021.[1] Perhaps a contributing factor is that the abrupt transition to remote work at the onset of the pandemic was a singular event that caused a temporary shift in migration patterns, which are now returning to their customary state.[1] On the other hand, the effects of remote work on migration patterns may not become apparent for a while.[1]

According to the report, the South and West are home to the counties experiencing the most rapid growth in terms of population, with the top five spots being occupied by counties in Arizona, Texas, and Florida.[3] The top spots for the counties with the largest decline are occupied by those in California, Illinois, and New York, all located in the Northeast, Midwest, and West Coast regions.[4] The combined population of the six fastest-growing counties in Texas increased by 209,182 residents between 2021 and 2022.[4] The combined total of three counties in Florida rose by 92,848.[4]

During the early pandemic era, exurban and suburban counties experienced significant domestic migration, leading to their continued fast growth in 2022.[1] In 2022, these counties experienced a further growth of 832,000 individuals, following an increase of 931,000 people in the previous year, resulting in a 0.93% rise from 2021.[1] Although the population of Los Angeles County decreased, it was only by 90,704 residents, which is significantly less than the decline of 180,934 observed between 2020 and 2021.[5]

Some of California’s most populous counties also experienced significant population declines. Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx lost 50,000, 47,000, and 41,000 residents, respectively, between 2021 and 2022.[6] As per a JLL analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, New York witnessed a rise of 0.2% in its net domestic migration in 2022, after experiencing a decline of 6.2% in 2021.[7] New York isn’t the only city seeing a reversal of residents leaving, with Atlanta posting a 0.3% increase in net domestic migration last year after a 1.1% drop in 2021, JLL data shows.[7] In the meantime, Charlotte, North Carolina experienced a 0.3% increase after a 0.1% decrease.[7]

Ultimately, the evolution of the remote work labor market and local housing markets will be crucial determinants of population shifts in the coming years.[1] Californians have been relocating quite a bit in response to COVID protocols, as well as things like prison closures. However, many places show the population is starting to resettle into the pre-pandemic status quo.

0. “California population winners and losers: The fastest growing and shrinking counties” Red Bluff Daily News, 5 Apr. 2023,

1. “As Major Cities Struggle to Rebound, Remote Work Continues to Shift Population Growth” Economic Innovation Group, 5 Apr. 2023,

2. “What’s driving those moving to, from or across California? We want to hear from you” Los Angeles Times, 6 Apr. 2023,

3. “Manhattan population rebounds as Southern counties grow – New York Business Journal” The Business Journals, 7 Apr. 2023,

4. “MHN Special Report: Population Trends and Migration – MHN” Multi-Housing News, 4 Apr. 2023,

5. “Merced, Fresno among fastest growing counties in California even as state shrinks” Fresno Bee, 6 Apr. 2023,

6. “New York City, a mecca of international migration” The Financial Express, 8 Apr. 2023,

7. “New York Had More People Moving in Than Moving Out Last Year, JLL Study Finds” CoStar Group, 7 Apr. 2023,