As a rapidly recovering job market attracts armies of young tech workers, Santa Clara County is now the fastest-growing county in California, new figures from the state Department of Finance show.

Most of the rest of the Bay Area also recorded strong population growth last year as the Golden State's population grew by almost 300,000 to nearly 38 million people. Four of the state's five most rapidly growing counties and several of its fastest-growing cities were in the region, according to the report released Wednesday.

"Who wouldn't want to live in the Bay Area now? Not only is there a great quality of life, but the job growth has been pretty outstanding," said Jim Wunderman, the Bay Area Council's president and CEO.

Wunderman, whose organization is made up of the region's 275 biggest employers, said the Bay Area is more than ever "seen as the place you have to be in order to be part of the innovation economy."

In Santa Clara County, the heart of Silicon Valley, the population grew 1.6 percent in 2012, up from 0.7 percent in 2011 and 1.1 percent in 2010, while San Francisco, Alameda and San Mateo counties all had growth rates exceeding 1 percent.

Contra Costa County grew by 0.8 percent -- the same as the state overall.

Santa Clarita in Los Angeles County was California's fastest-growing city, largely because it annexed surrounding areas. Dublin in Alameda County ranked second with 6.8 percent growth.

Highly affluent Los Altos Hills in Santa Clara County ranked ninth with 3.1 percent growth; Gilroy in the southern part of county ranked 10th with 2.9 percent growth.

Doug Kuczynski, a state Department of Finance research specialist, said the Bay Area's population gain was driven partly by a continuing shift to apartments and condos and away from single-family homes. "In San Jose, 89 percent of new housing that went in was multifamily,'' he said.

Hing Wong, senior regional planner for the Association of Bay Area Governments, said that as the Silicon Valley job market picked up steam over the past couple of years, many of those young tech workers chose to live in an urban environment rather than commute from the suburbs. "We've seen that trend happening over the past decades,'' Wong said. "They want more opportunities to socialize."

But Wunderman warned that the trend could prove problematic in the long run. As the economy and housing market keep improving, he said, all those young tech workers will get older and start looking to settle down in bigger homes.

"Suddenly we're going to have a lot more people looking to buy than we'll have single-family homes on the market, and historically that's created a housing bubble -- and here we go again," he said, adding that it's now time to start building more single-family homes.

"We need to get to work here," Wunderman said.

Wednesday's population report also showed San Jose still hasn't reached another milestone: 1 million residents.

The city had swelled with pride in 2009 when the state estimated it was the first West Coast city north of Los Angeles to break the million mark. "Size does matter," Mayor Chuck Reed crowed at the time. But the 2010 U.S. Census eventually deflated San Jose's ego when it announced that the city's population was actually 945,942.

Now the city's population is estimated at 984,299 as of Jan. 1. That's still short of bragging rights. But, Kuczynski noted, San Jose, at 1.5 percent, did have the largest growth percentage of California's top 10 cities.

The state in January estimated that the Bay Area overall will add 1.8 million new residents by 2060, led by Contra Costa County with a projected gain of about 533,000 and Santa Clara County with a projected increase of 412,000.

California's Hispanic population is expected to pull even with its white population by the middle of this year, at 39 percent each. By early next year, Hispanics will surpass whites in population. And by 2060, the state is projected to be 48 percent Hispanic, 30 percent white, 13 percent Asian and 4 percent black.

Josh Richman covers politics. Contact him at 510-208-6428. Follow him at Twitter.com/josh_richman. Read the Political Blotter at IBAbuzz.com/politics.

bay area leads California in population growth

California's fastest-growing counties, Jan. 1, 2012-Jan. 1, 2013
1. Santa Clara, pop. 1,842,254 -- 1.6 percent
2. Alameda, pop. 1,548,681 -- 1.2 percent
3. San Francisco, pop. 825,111 -- 1.1 percent
4. San Mateo, pop. 735,678 -- 1.1 percent
5. Yuba, pop. 73,439 -- 1.1 percent
6. Fresno, pop. 943,493 -- 0.9 percent
7. Kern, pop. 857,882 -- 0.9 percent
8. Merced, pop. 262,478 -- 0.9 percent
9. Riverside, pop. 2,255,059 -- 0.9 percent
10. Sacramento, pop. 1,445,806 -- 0.9 percent

California's fastest-growing cities, Jan. 1, 2012-Jan. 1, 2013
1. Santa Clarita (Los Angeles County), pop. 204,951 -- 15.4 percent
2. Dublin (Alameda County), pop. 49,890 -- 6.8 percent
3. Lake Elsinore (Riverside County), pop. 55,430 -- 4.2 percent
4. Imperial (Imperial County), pop. 16,148 -- 4.1 percent
5. Indio (Riverside County), pop. 81,393 -- 4.0 percent
6. Woodlake (Tulare County), pop. 7,665 -- 3.7 percent
7. Irvine (Orange County), pop. 231,117 -- 3.2 percent
8. Oroville (Butte County), pop. 15,979 -- 3.1 percent
9. Los Altos Hills (Santa Clara County), pop. 8,264 -- 3.1 percent
10. Gilroy (Santa Clara County), pop. 51,544 -- 2.9 percent

California's largest cities as of Jan. 1, 2013
1. Los Angeles -- 3,863,839 (1.0 percent growth)
2. San Diego -- 1,326,238 (0.8 percent growth)
3. San Jose -- 984,299 (1.5 percent growth)
4. San Francisco -- 825,111 (1.1 percent growth)
5. Fresno -- 508,453 (0.9 percent growth)
6. Sacramento -- 473,509 (0.7 percent growth)
7. Long Beach -- 467,646 (0.6 percent growth)
8. Oakland -- 399,326 (1.1 percent growth)
9. Bakersfield -- 359,221 (1.3 percent growth)
10. Anaheim -- 346,161 (0.6 percent growth)

Source: California Department of Finance