Discover the 4 Fastest-Shrinking Counties in Southern California
The north and south regions of the Golden State are quite disparate, as Southern California is set apart from Northern California in many ways. Their differences begin with the local lingo and weather. SoCal is sunny and warm, perfect for year-round surfing. NorCal is rainy and colder, breeding redwoods rather than breaking waves. Beyond that, SoCal culture is glitzy, and NorCal’s is laid-back. The list goes on.
What is similar between the two regions is the changing populations of their counties, not all of which are necessarily growing. There are 58 counties in California, 10 of which comprise SoCal. This A-Z.com report focuses on the four fastest-shrinking counties in the southern part of the state. U.S. Census Bureau data shows how many residents migrated from SoCal between 2020 and 2022. Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, and Imperial Counties all declined in population. The other seven SoCal counties grew, including Kern, Riverside, San Bernadino, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo.
While each county is unique, some common shrinkage factors exist, including the pandemic recession and natural increase. Homelessness is a similar feature shared by the fastest-shrinking counties in Southern California, which could add to each region’s recent lack of desirability. The bottom line is that these California counties need to gain strength regarding power in numbers.
1. Los Angeles
Population decrease – 90,704
Famous for celebrities and blockbuster hits, this declining county even slopes downward with swag. The County of Los Angeles is at the top of the fastest-shrinking counties in the U.S., let alone California. The Los Angeles Times says the county is losing locals quickly, projecting up to 1.7 million fewer people by 2060. California’s largest county’s declining birth rates and a drop in legal immigration are two main reasons for the exodus. The third reason is the rising heat along the county’s 70 miles of Pacific Coast.
A University of California, Los Angeles expert also weighs in on shrinkage, noting economics is one of the main reasons, followed by health and sociopolitical factors. Starting with shelter, SoCal housing and rent prices are incredibly high. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, renters in the county spend more than 30% of their annual income on housing.
BestPlaces.net reports additional L.A. County living costs, including food, childcare, transportation, health care, and taxes, create a 161.7% cost of living, 61.7% higher than the national average. An average home here costs $796,100. Living comfortably in L.A. County takes a minimum of $152,640 a year for a family and $70,000 for a single person.
These figures leave little room for financial security, lending to the fast-shrinking county’s 14.1% poverty rate. Notorious for homelessness, L.A. County residents without shelter rose by 9% last year alone, leaving 75,000 sleeping on the streets or in shelters. The University of California, San Francisco recently released research debunking why L.A. County experiences so much homelessness. It is not mental illness or drug addiction. The report shows that 90% of homeless people lost their housing in California because of cost.
The dwindling L.A. County population is diverse. The White population dominates at 70%, followed by a 49% Hispanic crowd. Up to 15.8% are Asian, and 9% are Black or African American. There is a slight population of American Indian or Alaska Native residents at 1.5%.
There are 2,466 people per square mile in L.A. County, comprised of 4,059 miles.
2. Orange County
Population decrease – 9,821
Renowned for the West Coast Disneyland Park and Laguna Beach, Orange County’s population decline is primarily because of natural increase. The 2022-2023 Orange Community Indicators report says residents over 65 are the only age bracket that will increase by 29% before 2060. The report warns that fast-shrinking Orange County must attract a younger population to keep its popular edge moving forward.
Along with natural increase, the high cost of living and rising inflation are causes for county migration. The cost of living on the 42 miles of coastline is higher than the national average by 64.9%. A million-dollar home here is not considered exuberant but average, with the typical house priced at $1,008,200. A financially secure family in this county makes at least $193,320 annually, and a single person makes a minimum of $84,000.
Orange County has a 9.9% poverty rate and a homeless issue. Though not as prevalent as in L.A. County, many people in Orange live on the streets. Street camping in the region recently spread to Newport Beach, where officials passed a law limiting access to sleeping on public property or bathing in community restrooms.
The White population dominates the racial makeup of Orange County at 69.1%, with a Hispanic heritage following at 34%. A high 23.3% Asian population follows. A 2.3% African American or Black population follows with the slightest percentage of American Indian or Alaska Native at 1.1%.
There are 4,019 people per square mile in Orange County, which has a total land area of 792.8 miles.
Population decrease – 6,753
Ventura County’s acclaimed coastline, which hosts the Rincon Classic surfing competition and a highly rated school district, wasn’t enough for nearly seven thousand people who migrated last year. One report shows “births are down and deaths are up” in Ventura County, and another report reveals fewer jobs and little new home construction are also causes for migration.
One group that does remain in the 43-mile-long coastline county is the homeless. Like L.A. County, Ventura cannot keep up with the homeless sector with its overcrowded and underfunded local shelters. The poverty rate is 8.9% in the fast-shrinking county, which has a 54% higher cost of living than the national average. A typical home here is $745,500. Comfortable living in fast-shrinking Ventura County entails averaging at least $142,920 per family or $80,000 for a single person.
Consistent with other SoCal shrinking counties, Ventura’s White population dominates at 83.3%, with a high Hispanic populace at 44.5%. There is an 8.2% Asian population, 2.5% African American or Black, and 1.9% American Indian or Alaska Native.
Only 458 people live per square mile in Ventura, which has 1,840 square miles of total land area.
Population decrease – 502
The Salton Sea, once a well-known feature of Imperial County, is now notorious and a possible cause for an exodus from the region. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences states that the shrinking Salton Sea is a health hazard. The agency details the dangers of the 350 square miles of lake in Imperial Valley. Wind-blown dust and contaminants from the exposed lakebed put residents, especially children, at risk.
Imperial County has the highest poverty rate out of the fastest-shrinking counties in SoCal regions at 17.3%. Ironically, unlike the other fastest-shrinking counties, Imperial saw a drop in the homeless population last year. It’s also the only county that falls under the national average for cost of living by 1.1%. A typical home in Imperial is $301, 800. A family income must total $57,960 to live comfortably here, and a single person must make $36,000.
Even Imperial County’s racial makeup is distinct from the others. It is not a dominant White populace. The Hispanic population is 86.1%, nearly the same as the White population of 90.2%. The African American or Black population is 3.2%, American Indian or Alaska Native is 2.6%, and Asian is 2.1%.
Only 43 people live per square mile in Imperial County. Unlike other shrinking counties, Imperial does not have miles of pristine Pacific Coast in the total land area of 4,175 miles.
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