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Friday, Dec 13 2013 06:19 PM

Kern population growth returns to pre-recession levels

BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

Kern County's annual population growth has surpassed 1 percent for the first time in years, likely fueled by a recovering economy, nearly two births for every death, and immigration, according to new state numbers.

A yearly survey by the California Department of Finance's estimates that between July 1, 2012, and July 1, 2013, Kern's population grew at a rate of 1.25 percent, rising from 856,282 to 866,977.

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KERN COUNTY ESTIMATED POPULATION GROWTH: BY THE NUMBERS

July 1, 2012-July 1, 2013

 

856,282

Population on July 1, 2012

 

866,977

Population on July 1, 2013

 

1.25

Percent change

 

14,641

Births

 

5,435

Deaths

 

2,067

Immigration from other countries

 

578

People who left Kern County

 

Source: California Department of Finance

During the boom years in the first decade of this century, county population regularly passed 1 percent per year.

But as the region struggled to recover from the nationwide recession that began in December 2007, that changed.

After making annual increases of more than 1 percent for 11 consecutive years, Kern County's yearly growth spurt first dropped below 1 percent two years ago, when it fell to 0.92 percent from July 1, 2010, to July 1, 2011, then to 0.86 percent for the same period in 2011-2012.

This year, state officials said the county's reliable growth pattern returned, probably due to a mending economy that includes solid returns from agriculture and oil, the major industries.

Its population increase of 10,695 was enough to make Kern the state's fifth fastest-growing county, ranking between Contra Costa County, No. 6 with a 1.12 percent growth rate, and Placer County, No. 4 with a 1.29 percent growth rate.

"If you're growing, chances are you're growing because there's opportunities in Kern County," said John Malson, a Finance Department research manager. "This year, you actually gained population due to migration, and that's the first time that occurred in a while."

State figures confirm that this is the first survey year since 2009-2010 when more people have moved to Kern County than moved away.

Before the recession, the opposite was true. During the 2006-2007 survey year, 7,381 people moved here from other counties or states, but that number fell to just 697 in 2007-2008.

By 2010-2011, 1,981 people left Kern County, going elsewhere in the state and nation, and just 741 moved here from other countries -- resulting in a net loss of 1,240 residents.

From July 2011 through July 2012, the worst year for population loss, 3,259 people left the county and just 1,447 moved here, generating a net loss of 1,812.

This year, the net loss is, well, less.

During the 2012-2013 survey year, 578 people left Kern County. That impact was mitigated by the 2,067 immigrants who moved to Kern County from outside the U.S. during those 12 months, resulting in a net migration to Kern County of 1,489.

"People move when they've got to get a job. Population growth is often very cyclical, especially in Kern County," said Kern Council of Governments Senior Planner Peter Smith. "Things are still not very good on the employment thing, but they're a lot better than they were."

John Emery, dean of the School of Business and Public Administration at Cal State Bakersfield, agreed.

"There's actually more work going on. Fewer people are looking for work and there are more jobs. And the underlying drivers in Kern County are doing well," Emery said, meaning oil, agriculture and, to a certain extent, construction.

Construction has not yet returned to its pre-recession peak of 2005, when the city issued 5,200 building permits, but Bakersfield Planning Director Jim Eggert said he expects more than 1,200 permits will be given by year's end -- a slight increase over the 1,096 written in 2012.

"Most of the county's growth is the city of Bakersfield. Usually we're around 2.5 percent a year. Even on the bad years we may have been 1 percent," Eggert said, noting Bakersfield's most recent population increase from 354,480 on Jan. 1, 2012, to 359,220 on Jan. 1 of this year -- an increase of more than 1 percent.

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