California is getting old. Young people are leaving.
One of the hoariest myths about California goes something like this:
As they take refuge in their homes from sub-freezing temperatures and snow, residents of Eastern and Midwestern states watch telecasts of Pasadena’s Rose Parade on New Year’s Day, which is seemingly always bathed in balmy sunshine. On the spot, many decide to move to California, contributing to its high population growth.
There once was a grain of fact in that scenario, but you’d have to go back a half-century to find it.
Fact is—as two new reports on population trends underscore—California loses more people to other states each year than it gains. That’s been true for at least a quarter-century and, if anything, the exodus from the state has been growing, thanks to high housing prices, taxes and other costs of living.
Our population growth now is well under 1 percent a year, scarcely a third of what it was in the 1980s, and appears to be slowing even more as births drop and deaths in the large baby-boom generation increase.
State Department of Finance demographers calculate that in the year ending on June 30, the state gained 301,000 residents, mostly by having more births (485,622) than deaths (265,025), and stood at 39.6 million residents.
The U.S. Census Bureau sees a similar number, 39.5 million, and both agencies agree that a net loss in state-to-state migration is a major factor in the state’s modest growth rate. The state calculates that net loss at 105,211 during the 2016-17 period and for the seven years since the 2010 census at 558,186, meaning it’s likely to be about 800,000 for the full decade.
It’s also evident that soaring housing costs are a major reason for the outflow of the young—with Texas their No. 1 destination. The Census Bureau report said that Texas had the nation’s highest numerical growth in the 2016-17 period—399,734—with Florida second and California third.
Half of Texas’ growth was from migration, including an 80,000-person net increase from other states such as California.
It should be noted, too, that California’s neighboring states in the West all were among the nation’s fastest-growing, including No. 1 Idaho, No. 2 Nevada, No. 3 Utah and No. 4 Washington. Arizona and Oregon were also in the top 10, along with Colorado and Texas.
The decline in births, falling immigration from other countries and the outflow of young adults to other states with lower living costs mean that California, whose population traditionally has been relatively young, is now graying markedly.
These trends also pose serious issues for the state’s economy, such as a decline in the working-age population. With unemployment rates now at an historic low, economists universally see shortages of trained and trainable labor as the greatest impediment to continued economic growth in California.
The potential economic effect, in turn, poses serious issues for political policymakers.
The foremost, obviously, is California’s acute and growing housing shortage, which drives costs upward and encourages the young and ambitious to go elsewhere.
But right behind housing is education. We are not doing a very good job of preparing children, especially those from poor families, for the workplace and/or higher education. And with so many college graduates migrating elsewhere, we are falling behind in producing enough to replace retiring baby boomers.
Finally, the sharp increase in the state’s elderly will impact costs of health care and other services.
These are serious matters, and we must compel those seeking political office in 2018, particularly would-be governors, to address them, not merely exchange bromides.
Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. He began his professional career in 1960, at age 16, at the Humboldt Times...
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