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Do Housing Costs Deserve Some Of The Blame For California’s Plummeting Fertility Rate?

July 30, 2018 1:41 p.m.

Do Housing Costs Deserve Some Of The Blame For California’s Plummeting Fertility Rate?


Dowell Myers, professor of urban planning and demography, University of Southern California

Related Story: Do Housing Costs Deserve Some Of The Blame For California’s Plummeting Fertility Rate?


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.

California's birth rate has dropped to near record lows.

One reason for the decrease in births may be high housing costs as part of our statewide collaboration covering the California Dream. PBS is Amita Sharma reports.

ANGELA George always thought she'd have two children by the age of 30. But student loans and stratospheric home prices daunted her and her husband to seeto.

We kind of waited and waited and waited.

When the 28 year old nurse said her husband a Marine learned last year she was pregnant. They were thrilled and they were petrified.

They didn't plan for that and we're like oh my what are we going to do. We were thinking oh how are we going to care for the baby financially how are we going now for daycare. It was just too much.

That worry is common among parents and wannabe parents in California. Birth rates are dropping around the United States. Californians are dipping more.

The major factor that makes California different is housing prices. There's really not much else that that different.

Dowell Myers is a professor of urban planning and demography at USC.

We don't have enough kids. We're actually losing children. The birth rate is below replacement level on a one point seventy six babies per woman. You need two point one to break even.

And he says it's a problem.

Those kids are important for all of us because those are our future taxpayers and workers and homebuyers. And if you don't have those kids I mean who's going to buy my house. Who's going to pay the taxes for it.

Me my old age he says potential parents are under a lot of pressure these days. They have to launch their careers pay off massive student loans meet and may pay an astronomical price for a home that usually requires two incomes to handle a mortgage and property taxes and they want to have kids to you're asking too much.

So something has to go and like it's put off and delayed as a kids as soon as Angela George found out she was having a baby.

She and her husband looked for a house to buy for us.

We felt like we had to get a home for him.

They wanted a home in San Diego County's Oceanside close to their jobs. But prices were out of reach. They found a house they could afford nearly 30 miles away in Marietta and Riverside County. She says houses there were significantly cheaper but that created alone could mean for me and my husband added another stressor and with a new baby they have to pay for daycare a she says will eat up more than half of her paycheck.

Childcare from zero to five. Southern California is as high as your rent.

San Diego financial planner Anthony Ferreras says the total cost of raising a child from birth until the age of 18 is a quarter of a million dollars.

He estimates it's significantly higher in some parts of the state because the cost of housing the cost of food the cost of gas the cost of everything here is so much higher.

Nothing nothing new.

Angela George gave birth to a baby boy two months ago. She's still like to have a second child but financially doesn't see a way to do it. Two kids in daycare would be akin to taking on a second mortgage.

We really think he wishes Flon does have him and keep us.

But that thought she says breaks her heart. Amit Sharma K PBS.

Joining me is one of the people you just heard in a Meeth is feature Doull Meyers is professor of urban planning and demography at the University of Southern California. Professor Myers welcome to the program. It's great to be with you. Don't financially stressed populations usually see a drop in the birthrate.

People are just too stressed. An initial shock might cause the greatest pause in babies but they just to it in a catch up to what they're planned.

Besides what is later so is there anything particularly unusual about the low birthrate we're seeing here in California.

Well the alarming thing is that the great recession is over and we should be out of the stress the major crisis has passed and employment rates are at record low.

So where's the stress. Well in fact there is still big problems apparently for young young people young adults in particular.

They're bearing the brunt of a lot of burdens that have student loan debt hanging over them. They have huge housing prices they're facing. They paid the maximum property taxes to make up for the subsidies from Prop 13 that go to older people. They're being weighed down with all the burdens of society and they may be despairing about the future. And one thing we know about birth rates is they are higher when people are more hopeful.

So not just stress respite hopelessness in society today.

The low birth rates are the canary in the mine shaft there's things going wrong they are stressing young people are above and beyond unemployment rates and above and beyond the stock market. We need to figure this out because our future does rest with the young people in their decisions.

It sounds like this state the state of California could take some of the financial burden off young people and make having kids more attractive. What are some of the things the state could do.

Well parents complain the most about child care costs. That's it. And that's definitely an impediment. And so any way that we could make childcare more easily available would be a big plus. I think it makes the lives of working women easier would be a great thing because families need two earners now and they have to juggle the two earner jobs with the child care and that's a lot to ask. It wasn't true in the baby boom era where the parent the mothers mostly stayed home. Now in the new world it's going to be 80 percent of the mothers are going to be working more. So we have to make child care. I think this is the linchpin that can make it more accessible and affordable.

One aspect of population growth you didn't go into in the feature is immigration. How will that affect California's future population.

Well immigration has been a real plus for California we've adjusted to it pretty well. Where is 27 percent foreign born in a state that's the highest of any state in the nation and also about the highest in the nation in the world. So we've been with this largest economy. We've done great with immigration but people don't realize how good it hit them we actually are an immigrant workers they do a lot of key jobs at the high and low level of the economy as immigration shuts down that might cut off our supply of farm workers. It might also come out of our supply of healthcare workers or elder care workers. And we have an aging population we're going to need more of those daycare workers child care workers. Yes there's a complementarity between how skilled and low skill women they help each other. So the high skill women earn more money and they pay for child support services to the lower lower skilled workers but that they can't find the carrot and they can't work outside the home and it starts to bottleneck the economy because we need every woman and every man to be working because the baby boom generation is retiring and the massive retirements require a replacement. And this is no time to take with immigrant workers also. So we're going to see what happens next five years I expect that federal policy will swing directly opposite of where it is right now and we'll be encouraging more immigrant workers because of the pressure going to take a boomer retirements.

If this low birthrate trend continues in California what changes do you think our society will have to make the lower birth rates are actually a good thing in the short run.

Eases the pressure on everybody and in the short run it takes the pressure off the parents takes pressure off the schools in the short run in the long run. Those are our future workers and taxpayers and we're going to rely on them more drastically than ever. I calculate about twice as strong a reliance on these young people when they grow up. As was true for young people who were born in 1985 and 1990. And that's because of that are top heavy structure. We must replace our workers and our taxpayers. Robots aren't going to do it because they won't pay the taxes. They also aren't going to buy your house. We need adults grown adults and they come out of kids.

One of the changes I believe you think our society has to make is to invest more in the children that are being born now and invest more in terms of of their education and so forth. Can you tell us about that.

Yes definitely. I think the only practical solution. You really can't make people have more babies it's just not feasible and not desirable. We want every child to be wanted by the children we already do have and those are the ones that are really going to be who's going to save our bacon. They're already here. They're already going to the schools and we need to really maximize our investment in them so they have the highest quality education and that starts early in life. Learning to read a very early age and then it goes on to higher education and a better educated they are the more they'll be able to earn and pay back in taxes and the returns really are like 3 2 1 6 to 1 that we get back in future money that we invested in them upfront. So the money does come back but we have to make an upfront investment in children. You have to have faith that you put money in now the kids will grow up and they'll return. And I'm pretty sure that that's a sure bet.

I've been speaking with General Myers professor of urban planning and demography at USC Professor Myers thank you.

My pleasure.