The recession and an aging population are combining to change the demographic face of the South Bay, a Daily Breeze analysis of 2010 Census Bureau data shows.

Slower population growth and fewer children set against the backdrop of a weak economy - yet with housing costs that remain high relative to other areas - are affecting school enrollments and homeownership locally and statewide, demographers said.

"Immigration and migration have both slowed down dramatically in Southern California since 2000," said Dowell Myers, a professor of urban planning and demography with the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development.

"They've slowed down because of high housing prices and the economy," he added. "The (child) Latino population has declined in Los Angeles County. It's the only place in America where it went down, and we think that's high housing prices. It especially chased away families with kids that needed bigger housing."

The slowdown is immediately apparent in the growth rates of South Bay cities during the 1990s compared with the 2000s.

Hawthorne, for instance, grew by almost 18 percent in the 1990s, the largest increase of any South Bay city, the 2000 census showed.

But in the past 10 years Hawthorne grew by just 181 people, a minuscule 0.2 percent rate for the city of 84,000.

Lawndale, which grew by

16 percent during the 1990s, saw its population expand by 3.3 percent, according to 2010 Census figures.

Inglewood fared even worse with its population shrinking by 2,907 people, a 2.6 percent decrease.

Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Westchester's Loyola Marymount University, said cities were actually growing through 2008, in large measure because of the increase in the Latino population.

Then the recession hit, in-migration virtually stopped and residents began fleeing either back to their home countries or to other states.

"It's a complete function of housing costs, employment centers and quality-of-life issues," Guerra said. "Clearly the recession has impacted the numbers (of Latinos) in California, and you see some of those numbers increase in other states, especially the South."

Nevertheless, the number of Latinos has continued to increase, albeit at a slower pace than seen in past decades.

Locally, for instance, Inglewood and Hawthorne became majority Latino cities for the first time, Census 2010 figures show.

Latinos or Hispanics are considered an ethnic group and can be of any race.

But in an indication that residents of blue-collar cities were impacted far more by the recession than their white-collar counterparts, it was local cities generally considered more affluent that saw the most significant growth.

Redondo Beach was the fastest growing South Bay city in the past 10 years, posting a population increase of 5.5 percent. Torrance, the largest South Bay city, was close behind with a growth rate of 5.4 percent.

Still, that was insufficient to keep pace with faster growing inland cities.

As a result, Torrance slid from being the sixth largest city in the county in 2000 to eighth last year.

Lancaster and Palmdale both surpassed Torrance in population. Lancaster was the county's fastest growing city, its population jumping by almost one-third.

Torrance grew by almost 7,500 people, and Mayor Frank Scotto said if the economy had been stronger he would have expected growth closer to 10,000.

"The census was taken at a time in Torrance when a lot of people moved out to look for a lower rent," he said. "I want to see very moderate growth. I don't want to be labeled as a no-growth person because I'm not, but I think a community like ours needs to very carefully manage the growth we can handle."

Generally speaking, the South Bay saw similar migration patterns in past decades.

For instance, Latino residents are replacing blacks in working-class communities such as Inglewood, Gardena and Hawthorne. Blacks are migrating south and west to cities like Torrance. Asians are moving into cities such as Torrance and Rancho Palos Verdes, while whites are moving out of the area. 

"The (white) parents are still there, the kids aren't," said Myers, the USC demographer. "They've gone off to college, they've gone to other places."

That means in Torrance and Lomita, whites are no longer the majority demographic group for the first time ever.

The white population of Torrance declined by more than 10,000 in the past decade, while the Asian population increased by a like amount.

The net result of the 14.7 percent decrease in the white population and 26.7 percent increase in the Asian population is that there is now no dominant population group in the city.

That's a stunning turnaround given that in 1980 - just over a generation ago - whites accounted for 79.3 percent of the population.

Asians now make up 34.2 percent of Torrance's population, the highest proportion of any South Bay city.

"Whites are not fleeing," Myers said. "They're just getting older and moving on.

"The problem is there's not as many younger whites replacing them. Those people aren't fleeing either, but they're being shut out by high housing prices, and they're being shut out by the bad recession."

The generational shift meant the state's homeownership rate suffered a "major reversal" in mid-decade, concluded Myers in a recent report tracing the attrition of homeownership in the state.

The homeownership rate in California peaked at 58.4 percent in 2006, a rise of 1.5 percent since 2000.

Then it plunged 2.5 percent in just four years.

Myers found the state's total number of white non-Latino homeowners declined by almost 158,000 in the 2000s. Home ownership shrank by 702,000 among whites over the age of 55.

Latinos largely replaced them.

Their homeownership rate increased by 383,778 over the course of the decade, which accounted for 78.5 percent of all new home owners.

Asians and Pacific Islanders accounted for much of the remainder, boosting their ranks of homeowners by almost 43percent, an increase of more than 264,000.

"We should be thankful we have these other folks - Latinos and Asians - who are willing to buy the houses because otherwise they might go empty," Myers said.

Without that growth in homeownership by Asians and Latinos, the total number of homeowners in the state would have declined by almost 160,000.

The aging population and economic factors also contributed to the number of children in the South Bay aged 5 to 9 declining by almost 16 percent - more than 7,400 - in the past 10 years.

The biggest decreases came in working-class cities like Lomita, Lawndale, Hawthorne and Carson.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has 75,000 fewer children than a few years ago as families move elsewhere in search of cheaper housing, fertility rates stabilize or decline and in-migration has largely stopped, Guerra said.

nick.green@dailybreeze.com