California added nearly 400,000 residents in 2009, bringing the state’s population to 38.4 million. But the real tale remains in the composition of that growth.

Over the past two decades, between one-half and two-thirds of the gross increase in population was from natural increase – births minus deaths. But the interesting story is the net population increase. In 12 of the 19 years since 1990, more Californians have left the state to go to other states than moved here from the rest of the country. The net outflow of Californians since 1991 has been more than 1.5 million residents. That has been more than made up by foreign immigration – both legal and illegal. Since 1990 California has enjoyed a net increase of nearly four million foreign immigrants.

Domestic outflow
seems weakly associated with the economic climate. California lost
nearly a million residents during the recession of the early 1990s, but
the outflow continue after the recovery and reversed during and after
the 2000 recession. U-Hauls again started leaving the state beginning
in 2005, well before the onset of the latest economic decline. Net
foreign immigration’s tie to the economy also seems weak, if exists at

These trends have enormous implications for the future of the
California economy, including the ability to develop and retain a
highly-skilled work force. Legal foreign immigration will likely become
an even more important element of California’s economic success in the
decades to come.