Thanks, Millennials: L.A.'s Population Tops 4 Million for the First Time

If it's feeling a little more crowded around here, you can likely thank your nearest millennial.

For the first time, government officials are estimating that the city of Los Angeles' population has surpassed 4 million.

The county, with 10,241,335, remains above the 10 million mark, the state Department of Finance said this week.

The department's population report, based on estimates for January, contains preliminary figures. Still, it's an eye-opener, pointing to increased density in California's largest city and to the probability that millennial residents are fueling urban growth.

The city of L.A.'s 1.3 percent expansion was the largest among the Golden State's 10 biggest cities, the Department of Finance report found.

Demographer Dowell Myers of USC's Sol Price School of Public Policy says that with Mexican immigration at a standstill and families on the decrease in Los Angeles, the growth spurt here points to millennial workers who enjoy dense, downtown-style accommodations.

"We've been losing Latinos and kids," Myers said. "So this increase in population is not due to immigration at all. It's due to millennials and jobs."

A few years before the recession hit, we reported on how downtown Los Angeles was preparing for a third wave of growth. USC history and political science professor Philip J. Ethington presented the idea that's now being touted by Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne.

"You see three big periods of growth,” Ethington told us in 2004. “The '20s, when some of the signal monuments were created — City Hall, Westwood, the big satellite areas, Hollywood. And then the next phase was postwar, with a vast expansion of the suburbs. Then you can look at this as a third major period of its growth, taking place now. But it's a different kind of growth. It's rebuilding. Developers are looking all over to reuse space."

The Great Recession of 2007-09 might have slowed the third wave, but the new population report shows it appears to be back in a big way.

"Growing is the number of millennials," Myers says. "They're the ones forcing gentrification and they're the ones who want to live in apartments."

Indeed, some experts think the city's focus on vertical, dense development near transit stops is attracting millennials and others to L.A.'s core communities (downtown, Echo Park, Koreatown, Highland Park).

Stephen Levy, director of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy (CCSCE), says the state data might say more about L.A.'s rediscovery of its inner core than about a millennial demographic wave.

"It says something about people wanting to live in urban areas that are getting spruced up with transit being added," he told us. "It may be led by millennials, but I think it's broader than millennials.

"There's an attraction to a lifestyle being created in some of the urban centers, led by downtown," Levy continued. "It's definitely found in areas that are walkable and in places close to Metro transit in L.A."

The question isn't necessarily who's coming but how Los Angeles can accommodate them. With some of the highest rents in the nation and a low vacancy rate (near 4 percent or less), it's getting crowded around here.

"L.A. grew as fast as Riverside County," Levy said. "It's been a long time since that happened. The L.A. story is both that people want to live there and that they would provide a ready market for housing in urban, walkable parts of the city."

USC's Myers notes that the city grew by about 50,000 people in the last year while adding only about 12,000 housing units.

"We need more apartments," Myers said. "Young people like to live in cities. It's a demographic fact of life."


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