California's population grew by the highest rate in nearly a decade over the last year, swelling the state's ranks to more than 38.2 million, new population figures released Thursday showed.
The state added 332,000 people between July 1, 2012 and July 1 of this year, a growth rate of 0.9 percent that is the highest since 2003-04, before the recession, the state Department of Finance reported.
Demographic experts said the increase highlights the recovery in the job market, especially since net migration added 66,000 people to the state -- an increase of 71 percent from the year before. Alameda County, on the outskirts of Silicon Valley and home to a fast-growing technology sector, accounted for the largest share of the migration, with more than 15,000 new arrivals from other states and countries.
"We are at the beginning of an upturn in population growth driven by the reemergence of job growth in the state," said Stephen Levy, director of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy.
Santa Clara County, home to Silicon Valley, and Orange County, which houses a sizable number of tech firms, each received more than 15,000 foreign immigrants, he noted.
While population growth is largely driven by new births, the uptick in the state's growth rate stems from the rise in migration to California, said Hans Johnson, senior and Bren fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California.
For many years, counties in the San Francisco Bay Area were among the state's slower growing regions due to restrictions on land and housing, but that has changed as foreign immigrants, many highly-educated and from Asia, have flocked there in search of jobs, Johnson said.
"If you attract young, well-educated migrants -- which we are -- many of them are at points in their lives where they're starting families, so that will have an impact on births," Johnson said.
Over the year, the state gained 169,000 foreign immigrants and saw nearly 103,000 residents leave for other states, the state reported.
Alameda and Santa Clara counties in the Bay Area saw the largest percentage increases in population, followed by Santa Barbara, Placer and Kern counties. Ten counties, mostly in more remote areas, saw population declines.
More than half of all Californians live in just five counties: Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino.
State officials use the annual population data to determine how to spend state money, distribute social welfare programs and assess the state's overall needs.