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California Isn't Getting Any Younger, New Report Shows

January 9, 2013 1:34 p.m.


Dowell Myers, Professor, USC School of Public Policy

John Weeks, Demography Professor, San Diego State University

Related Story: California Isn't Getting Any Younger, New Report Shows


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: Our top story on Midday Edition, some call it the aging of California, others may see it as the changing of California. In either case, analysis of census data indicates that the percentage of children in California's population is decreasing from 1/3 of the population in 1970. Kids under age 10 are predicted to make up only 1/5 of California's residents by 2030. I'd like to welcome my guests, Dowell Myers is president of policy and demography at the university of Southern California. Welcome to the program.

MYERS: Thank you for having me on.

CAVANAUGH: And professor John Weeks is here, a demographer at San Diego state university. Welcome to the show.

WEEKS: Thank you for having me.

CAVANAUGH: Professor Myers, this is a situation I believe that is not unique to California. Isn't the nation as a whole seeing a reduction in the number of children as a percentage of the population?

MYERS: Yes, children are declining in prevalence throughout the nation. But in California we actually have negative numbers. We lost kids. And the nation is still growing.

CAVANAUGH: I see what you're saying. So the number of children is going down across the nation, but we are actually having fewer kids here in the state.

MYERS: Yeah, our elementary schools are being emptied out, and our future workforce is being put at risk.

CAVANAUGH: With the projected decrease in young people, does it follow naturally that we're going to see a decrease in California's population as a whole?

MYERS: No, we're still growing, but much more slowly than before. So that's not at risk, but we have an imbalance, we're becoming top-heavy. All our baby boomers are getting older. Unfortunately I'm one. And we're losing our base at the bottom. It's not big enough to support the growing elderly population.

CAVANAUGH: Now, professor John Weeks, I understand there's some preliminary data for projections across San Diego County.

WEEKS: Well, let me just add the caveat that these projections have not yet been approved by the SANDAG board. And apparently there's a vacancy on it as we just heard.

WEEKS: But the preliminary data for these reflections reflect exactly what professor Meyers is talking about. We expect as the state does that given the drop in the birth rate in the past few years, we do have a dent in the young age group in San Diego County as for the state as a whole. Everybody is assuming that that's going to pick up. If you look at projections for the state and the SANDAG projections for San Diego County, we'll have this dent that will be a permanent dent of the age structure as it ages, but we will recover some of those children, but again as professor Myers says, we have a long-term situation in the age structure in California that is similar to the U.S. in that we have an aging population. And there is not that same base of young people that we have had in the past. We're transitioning to a very new kind of demography in this country.

CAVANAUGH: What about the overall population here in San Diego County? Are you projecting that that will continue to climb?

WEEKS: Yes over the next 40 years, we expect another million people to be added to the population.


WEEKS: Of San Diego County. Now that's a slower growth than in the past as with the state. The state's population will continue to grow, but not as fast as in the past. And in San Diego County, are we'll see that same thing.

CAVANAUGH: Now, professor Myers, what are the implications in this dent that John was just talking about? Of the drop in the number of children, what will we need to do differently in the future?

MYERS: The problem as I see it is not so much in the kids themselves but in the explosion over age 65 that we really need to have more kids, not fewer. So the two trends are going in opposite directions. See, the beauty of the demography is it's so projectable. In 20 years' time, they will be 20 years older. They are the new workers of California and the new taxpayers. And they're the ones who are going to step up eventually and buy the homes from aging seniors. Well, there's a lot more seniors who are going to be tell selling their home, and a lot fewer young people to buy them. So that's the problem. We have to figure out how to fortify this younger generation so per capita they can carry more economic weight than they have in the past. We can plan ahead a little bit. We can see what's happening in 20 years. But I don't know if we can make decisions politically in the present as we need to.

CAVANAUGH: Are there any advantages that you see to a smaller child population?

MYERS: Yes, one advantage. With fewer kids, we can spend less on education, we think. The trouble is you've already been underfunding education to begin with. And I'm not sure this is a license to cut funding more. If we're going to get the kids to be more productive economically, we need to educate them more. So it suggests we actually put more money into education, not less.

WEEKS: I would agree with that 100%. In fact, I think one of the most important part, probably the most important part in my mind of the report that professor Myers has put together be is to make it very clear to the public that we've got a much different kind of school population than we used to. In particular, the state now sends more people to other states than we get in from other states. The State of California was built on the backs of other states in the union. Educating children and sending them as adults to California. We now have lost that. We have net domestic out-migration from California.

CAVANAUGH: Without expecting people from across the nation to come here as you say to fuel -- basically make their intellectual contributions to the success of our state.

WEEKS: Exactly.

CAVANAUGH: Now, let me ask you both, professor Myers, what were the facts that have brought about the decline in the number of children?

MYERS: Well, I think doctor Weeks can comment on this too. He's a very noted demographer and accomplished author. I'm honored to be on a program with him, I should say. It's the migration downturn has caused us to have fewer young adults arriving in the state. And those are the potential parents. So we don't have that reenforcement as in the past. And the birth rates are dropping for reasons that are not totally know by anybody. It could that they're declining nationwide, not just in California, and they're declining in every ethnic group, which is an interesting picture. Many people assume that there's high fertility among Latino, for example, and theirs is dropping the fastest and is down near the replacement level right now. Where whites and blacks, Asians are below replacement.


MYERS: So we have low birth rates and fewer potential parents because of this dent that doctor Weeks is talking about. And we will have the millennial generation now arriving in their '20s. They're the echo generation from the baby boom. They will then fortify the parent generation and maybe they have kids, and so their lifestyles we have to watch, maybe they will maybe they won't have kids. But there's not going to be any magic bounceback in the number of babies born, I don't think.

CAVANAUGH: And doctor Weeks?

WEEKS: Well, I was just going to add to that, my analysis of the data is what we right now is postponement of births based on economic uncertainty. If you look at the birth data, you see that age-specific birth rates dropped much more among the younger women than among the older women. And the national survey of family growth has suggested over the last decade or so that there really has not been a change in the expected number of births to American women. The expected number of births still is higher than the number of babies that are being born, but I think that is evidence of the potential for this bounceback that professor Myers is talking about. I don't think it's going to be a big bounceback, but I think this is sort of a pent up demand for babies that will flow into the society as the economy begins to show more signs of improvement. And of course at that point we'll also likely see a reinvigorated flow of migrants.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Because there are more opportunities.

WEEKS: That's right. And they're young adults who come in and have children.

CAVANAUGH: Professor Myers, you also found some rather surprising and disturbing information regarding poverty and children in California.

MYERS: I hadn't fully appreciated this, what a gap there is between the poverty rates of children and of middle aged adults. Poverty is probably about twice as high for the children. And we also looked at families that are similar but had kids or did not have kids. And it seems that just the presence of a child in a family, it pushes the family over the threshold for being deemed to be in poverty. The difference in poverty levels is, like, three times higher if you have a baby or don't have a baby.

CAVANAUGH: Is there a cause and effect there? Could that be one of the reasons people are choosing not to have children in replacement numbers?

MYERS: Well, I think it's more just the definition of poverty. It's based on how many people live in your family versus how much income you have. So with the same income if you add one kid, suddenly you're poor. I think that's part of it. But the problem is, children who grow up in poverty are really given a lifelong handicap in their ultimate career potential. So this is not good because we have fewer kids and we need them to be more successful, but we're starting them off being poor to begin with.

WEEKS: And that just adds to the point that we've all been making that as a state, we need to step up more than we have in terms of the education of these kids. Because that's what way need. We need to be sure that they stay focused on school, stay in school and become economically productive members of society. Because that's what we need in the future.

CAVANAUGH: John Weeks, are there reasons to be alarmed by these statistics? Or can we look at it another way and say now that we know there are certain trend, we can change our society and adapt?

WEEKS: Well, both. There is an alarm bell that needs to go off, and I think professor Myers' report helps to ring that bell. And we need to respond to that alarm by stepping up with more funding for education. We all are self-interested in that, but I believe it's absolutely the case. We need to spend more per pupil to make sure that we have a well-educated labor force to keep the California economy going. Otherwise we'll drift down to levels of economic well being that none of us want to see.