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California population climbs to 38.5 million, most significant back-to-back growth in a decade

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SACRAMENTO, California — California's population climbed to 38.5 million people over the last year as the state recorded its most significant back-to-back growth in a decade, new population figures released Thursday showed.

The state's population grew by 335,000 people between July 1, 2013 and July 1 of this year, the state Department of Finance reported. That is a growth rate of 0.9 percent, the same as the previous year and the highest since 2003-04, before the recession.

It's the first time in six years that growth exceeded 300,000 people.

"That's not a big number by California historic standards, but it's bigger than we've had for a while and it reflects the improvement in the state's economy," said Hans Johnson, senior and Bren fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California.

Birth rates continue to decline, but still accounted for 243,000 of the state's new residents. California also had a net gain of 92,000 people moving into the state during the last fiscal year.

Much of the growth is in urban coastal counties, with Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Riverside, and Santa Clara counties adding the most people and providing more than half of the state's growth.

"It's almost like we have three states here, as demographics go," said John Malson, a research manager in the state's Demographic Research Unit.

Home construction and job opportunities are recovering in those coastal counties. The San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley, which traditionally had slower growth due to land and housing restrictions, became the fastest-growing region during the recession for the first time since the 1860s, Johnson said.

That growth is now spreading into the second region, the Central Valley. Some counties there were among those with the highest percentage increases in population, led by Alameda, Contra Costa, Placer, San Benito and San Joaquin counties.

The third region is the mountain and rural counties that showed a declining population as residents age and young people leave. Twelve of the state's 58 counties had more deaths than births during the year.

Usually, pregnancies pick up along with the economy, but that has yet to happen among younger mothers.

"There seems to be, I'm not sure, a hesitancy among younger mothers to start their families," Malson said. That could be because of lingering uncertainty, he said, or alternatively because young women are entering a recovering job market.

Fewer residents are moving out of California to other states in another sign of recovery, while net immigration from other nations remained relatively steady.

"The economy in California, if it stays healthy it will draw population to the state," said Malson. "It always has."

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