Independent, objective, nonpartisan research
Press Release · May 8, 2002

Growth Slows, Diversity Grows In California’s Regions

Despite Some Statewide Trends, Vast Differences Between Regions in Income, Immigration, Jobs

SAN FRANCISCO, California, May 8, 2002 – The first analysis of regional populations since the release of the 2000 Census finds that during the 1990s, every region in California realized slower population growth than in the previous decade and experienced growing racial and ethnic diversity. At the same time, disparities in income between regions became even more pronounced, and the overall demographic make-up and sources of population growth varied widely, according to the study released today by the Public Policy Institute of California.

“When a state is so diverse that it has a population of nine people per square mile in some regions and nearly two thousand per square mile in others, it can look like a puzzle that doesn’t fit together,” says demographer Hans Johnson, the study’s author. “However, there are common trends – such as the fact that Hispanic and Asian populations are growing faster than any other group from the Sierras to San Diego – that suggest the state can benefit from cohesive public policies.” In A State of Diversity: Demographic Trends in California’s Regions, Johnson analyzes nine regions based on geography, demography, and economic conditions: Far North, Sacramento Metro, Sierras, Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley, Central Coast, Inland Empire, South Coast, and San Diego (see Figure 1, page 3 for region descriptions).

Major Findings

Inland Growing Faster than Coast; Births in State Key Source of Growth

  • During the 1990s, all of California’s regions grew more slowly than in the decade before.
  • The three fastest growing regions in the state were the Inland Empire (26%), Sacramento Metro (21%), and San Joaquin Valley (20%). The three slowest growing were the South Coast (10%), Far North (11%), and Central Coast (12%).
  • Natural increase (births over deaths) was the single greatest source of population growth in every region except the Sierras. The South Coast added almost as many people through immigration as by natural increase; over half the states’ immigrants settled in this region.

Racial and Ethnic Diversity Burgeoning Throughout State

  • In every region during the 1990s, Hispanic and Asian or Pacific Islander populations grew faster than any other group, while the percentage of non-Hispanic whites declined.
  • Three regions – the South Coast, San Joaquin Valley, and Inland Empire – no longer have any one racial or ethnic group as a majority of the population.
  • Non-Hispanic whites remain a solid majority only in the Sierras (83%) and Far North (78%).
  • Statewide, Hispanics outnumber Asians and Pacific Islanders three to one – except in the Bay Area where the two groups are about equal.

Regional Wealth Disparities Grow; Job and Population Growth Linked

  • Two of the state’s fastest growing regions – the Inland Empire and San Joaquin Valley – are also two of the poorest.
  • The income gap between regions grew tremendously in the 1990s: Bay Area per capita income grew from $32,708 in 1989 to $41,129 in 1999, while income in the San Joaquin Valley dropped from $20,528 to $20,364 during the same time.
  • Regions with the highest population growth had the highest job growth: the Inland Empire, Sacramento Metro, and San Joaquin Valley all saw the number of jobs increase by over 18 percent, while the South Coast, with the lowest population growth, saw four percent job growth.
  • In most regions, the rate of job growth outpaced that of population growth.
  • Housing growth has not kept pace with population growth in any region except the Far North.

The Public Policy Institute of California is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to objective, nonpartisan research on economic, social, and political issues that affect the lives of Californians. The Institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett.