The Big Shrink: Could California’s Population Be Headed for Decline?

California’s population is set to break 40 million for the first time. It may sound like a lot. But don’t be fooled, writes Zócalo Public Square columnist Joe Matthews. In fact, the era of California’s population explosion may be over.

The very factors that have produced population declines in other places are now strong trends in California. Our birth rate has fallen to a record low—even lower than during the depths of the Great Depression. Also, we’re now three decades into a serious out-migration of California residents, with the Golden State losing about one million more people per decade than it takes in from the rest of the United States.

International immigration won’t save us—it’s at near-historic lows and is likely to fall further as the federal government continues its systematic harassment and mass deportation of immigrants. And the Trump administration’s destructive trade war is already hurting our globally oriented economy, eliminating jobs that draw and keep people here.

Worse still, our state’s own policy mistakes—underfunding schools and child care; failing to build adequate housing or infrastructure; letting runaway retirement costs for public employees undermine public services—all discourage family creation and add to the high cost of living that drives people out of California.

What’s more, California’s population is rapidly aging. We’re bereft of children; San Francisco now has the lowest proportion of young people (13 and under) than any major city. By 2022, Matthews writes, the state could lose a seat in the House of Representatives for the first time.

This California, of 40 million, faces a choice. Either accept that, instead of the colossus of our boastful imaginings, we’re a small place that’s likely to become smaller—at least compared to a world that is growing faster than we are. Or think more seriously about how to attract more people here from other states and countries, and better nurture and retain the young people we have here now.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2019 - 20:41

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