Is California a State Economically Hostile to Raising a Family?

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The birth rate in California has reached an all-time low, giving family advocates just reason to fret. While some news outlets may not have announced the gradual shift of Californians having less and less children, the Los Angeles Times gives us numbers to prove the reality of this alarming change:

Between July 2015 and July of this year, there were 12.42 births per 1,000 Californians, the [Department of Finance] said… The last time the birthrate came close to being that low was during the Great Depression, when it hit 12.6 per 1,000 in 1933.”. It’s clear that for one reason or another, Californians are choosing to have less children and smaller families than ever before.

A report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office noted the huge costs of housing even over two years ago. The report stated:

California’s high housing costs present many difficult issues for policy makers, residents, and businesses to consider. On the one hand, California’s constraints on housing supply—the primary factor driving the state’s high housing costs—show no signs of abating. If California continues on its current path, the state’s housing costs will remain high and likely will continue to grow faster than the nation’s. This, in turn, will place substantial burdens on Californians—requiring them to spend more on housing, take on more debt, commute further to work, and live in crowded conditions. Growing housing costs also will place a drag on the state’s economy.

The Orange County Register points out that the ratio of children to adults is even lower in Southern California than it is elsewhere:

Los Angeles’ population of people under 17 already has dropped a precipitous 13.6 percent, with drops even among Latinos and Asians, while Orange County has fallen by 6 percent since 2000.

Why is this shift to an increasingly child-free population occurring more in Southern California than elsewhere? One logical source may be housing prices, particularly near the coast, which present a particular problem for middle-class, middle-aged families.

ABC 10 suggests that one additional cause of the dramatic drop in births could be the younger generation:

The latest data from the DOF {California Department of Finance} found Millennials were the largest population in California overall in 2016. The age structure of a population has a major effect on birth rates, especially when the dominating generation is waiting longer to have children. The majority of Millennials choose to finish a higher education and focus on a career before starting a family. Many Millennials wait to have children while reaching economic stability after college and while looking for the right partner.

It appears that California not only has a housing economy that is unwelcoming to families, but that this lack of economic stability combined with pursuing higher education, etc. has a direct influence on family structure and size. Young adults may have been taught by both the culture and state of the economy that having a family is optional, and in many cases, foolish. Rather than making a way for families to prosper in California, it’s current structure proves to be an obstacle for young people thinking of starting a family. Rather than raise a large family with the potential for intense economic hardship, it would appear that many young people are now delaying marriage and parenthood, or even foregoing it altogether.

The Press-Enterprise makes some sensible suggestions of ways that California can become more family-friendly, at least when it comes to housing options:

To date, the state’s policy has been to push high-density development, which seems likely to attract younger people without children more than families. An increased supply of more affordable, family-friendly housing — whether on the periphery or infill in redundant urban spaces such as retail and abandoned industrial buildings — would constitute a good first step. The state also needs to consider reversing its fiscal policies by reducing taxes on income, which hit upwardly mobile families hardest, as well as on sales, something that beggars the working class.

Obviously, it is not only the culture and the economy which contribute to the decline of California’s birth rate, but also its government policies. As alarming as the situation is, things can be done to help the situation improve! As suggested above, steps can be taken to make California a welcoming state of opportunity for families. The existing culture may be mean harsh conditions for rearing families, but the future doesn’t necessarily have to be the same way! Through hard work and collab California can once again become a happy, promising home for the next generation.

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