Paradise with population decline: Santa Cruz County saw 3,069 fewer residents in the past year

An illustration of U.S. Census Bureau data
(Via U.S. Census Bureau)

An aging population, limited immigration and COVID have combined to drive the U.S., California and Santa Cruz County to historically low growth rates.

Our national population decline has been unprecedented, as the United States saw its slowest 10-year population growth since the Great Depression. It’s been a decadelong trend, and one now exacerbated by COVID-19 deaths and immigration cutbacks.

Santa Cruz County and California as a whole are no exceptions, and census data from the past few years backs that up.

With affordability adding to other woes, the county saw a 1.1% population decline between April 1, 2020, and July 1, 2021, according to United States Census Bureau data. That’s equivalent to a 3,069-resident decrease, from 270,861 down to 267,792.

Following the state’s smallest population increase since 1900 — a minuscule 0.05%, or 21,200 new residents — between July 1, 2019, and July 1, 2020, California experienced its first population decline ever, down 0.46% in the 2020 calendar year. That trend continued into 2021, with a 0.8% decline between April 1, 2020, and July 1, 2021.

Rate of population change, Santa Cruz County vs. neighboring counties

As for nearby counties, three out of four — San Mateo, Santa Clara and Monterey — saw similar population declines. San Benito County is the only one that saw growth, with a 3.8% increase.

Housing prices could be driving that difference: The price of homes there is by far the most affordable among the four counties. San Benito’s 2021 fourth-quarter median home value was listed at about $608,000. The next lowest was Monterey County — its neighboring county that experienced the smallest population decline — at $749,000.

Nationally, the numbers point to an astounding fact: 2021 marked the first time the U.S. population grew by fewer than one million since 1937.

Rate of population change, Santa Cruz County vs. California vs. United States

In December, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the U.S. population grew a meager 0.1% during 2021. That is the slowest rate of growth since 1918-19, amid the Spanish Flu pandemic and World War I.

Experts attribute these widespread, historic firsts in population decline and stagnation to several factors.

Slower population growth isn’t new to the U.S. in recent years, as birth rates and net immigration have been decreasing since the mid-2010s, while deaths have increased due to an aging population.

Throw the COVID-19 pandemic into the mix, and you get a never-before-seen population dip as the previous factors have all been exacerbated by the public health crisis.

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