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L.A. area population rising again, new census data show

March 24, 2010 |  4:38 pm

Southern California is getting its population groove back, according to new U.S. Census Bureau data.

All six counties showed moderate growth in population from 2008 to 2009, with all but San Diego County growing at a stronger rate than the year before. It’s the latest sign that the region is recovering from the declines in population seen in the middle of the decade, some experts said.

“Things aren’t wonderful in Southern California, but you are seeing some industries that are growing or in the process of rebounding,” said Jack Kyser, senior vice president and chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

He and others believe the population numbers are one indicator of the Southland’s slow rebound after a severe recession that resulted in population decreases in some parts of the region.

Southern California’s population grew at a higher rate than the state’s population as a whole, according to the data. The gains in 2009 were small but significant. The population of Los Angeles County as of July 1, 2009, the latest date for which statistics are available, was 9,848,011, according to the census estimates.

That was up 68,757 from the year before, a sharper gain than the 44,553 that the county saw between 2007 and 2008. Between 2006 and 2007, L.A. actually lost 25,897 people -– a trend seen in other Southern California counties.

The census data didn’t provide any information about the sources of the population increases. But Dowell Myers, a professor of urban planning and demography at USC, said some of the newcomers are probably  younger people from other parts of the country deciding to give the region a try. A portion of the increase is births. 

For years, Southern California was a magnet for new residents, who came for both the balmy climate and strong economy. But steep housing prices, the exodus of major corporations and jobs as well as a high cost of living tarnished that allure.

The new numbers, said Kyser, offer hope that some of the worst economic times are behind the region. “What you are seeing is that people are not going to the traditional hot spots like Las Vegas, like Phoenix, even like Florida because of the housing problems and also the economic problems in those areas,” he said. Kyser predicted that Southern California will continue to see a steady increase in population — as long as the economy slowly improves.

“As the economy recovers over the course of this year, people are going to be looking around and saying, ‘Where do we go? If we go to Las Vegas, that’s a one-trick pony, and the casino business is struggling.’ In Los Angeles, there’s more opportunity.”

The population estimates released this week are based on census data from 2000 and represent the last  estimates before this year's decennial count, the results of which will be released in December.

In Orange County, the population was at 3,026,786, up 37,645 from the year before. The county gained only 4,840 residents between 2006 and 2007. San Diego County was the only county not to post an increase in its rate of growth, but it did post a gain. The population, at 3,053,793 as of July 1, 2009, had grown 34,519 over the previous year.

--Cara Mia DiMassa and Doug Smith

Photo: L.A.-area subdivision. Credit: Los Angeles Times