comments

Is a population crisis looming for California?

Lack of young workers could jeopardize the economy
By: Tricia Caspers of the Auburn Journal
-A +A

During the 2014-15 school year, the amount spent on California students varied from about $7,000 per student to $36,000, depending on the school district. Auburn Union Elementary School District spent $10,941 per student, while Placer Union High School District spent $9,243, according to the California Department of Education. That includes certificated and classified salaries, employee benefits, books and supplies, equipment replacement, services and indirect costs. 

Californians born between 2005 and 2020 are twice as important as their predecessors.

Why? Because there aren’t enough of them.

In about 20 years, as the older generation steps out of the workforce, there won’t be enough young people to replace them.

That’s the prediction of Dr. Dowell Myers, professor of urban planning and demography at the University of Southern California.

It’s a priority that children receive an education that will prepare them for those jobs, he said, so that every child may grow up to fill an open position.

Speaking to a crowd at Dietrich Theater at Sierra College, Myers addressed what he said were several myths about California’s children:

• There are already too many children in the state.

• California is threatened by demographic changes.

• Children are a burden on taxpayers.

• Taxpayers don’t need to take care of other people’s kids.

• California can’t afford any more children.

These are old assumptions, Myers said, based on information that is no longer valid.

“The old game plan is a recipe for disaster given the new reality,” he said.

The new reality

Currently in Placer County, 50 out of every hundred people are senior citizens, compared to 40 out of 100 across the state. Meanwhile, the number of babies born each year in California is decreasing. In 1995, the birth rate in California was about 62 per 1,000 women. In 2013, it was 55 per 1,000 women, according to Kidsdata.org.

In addition, the number of people moving to the golden state from other locales has decreased as well, and that includes legal and undocumented immigration.

Immigration peaked in 1990, he said, and will hover at about 25 percent through 2030. 

The state is no longer attracting young families because those families can’t afford to live here, he said. Instead, the majority of them are moving to Texas.

In 2014, 85 percent of California residents between the ages of 5 and 17 were born here. Comparatively, only 35 percent of seniors 75 and older were born in California.

Immigration puzzle

Immigrants who live in California tend to come only because they have family here.

“We have a greater reliance on immigrants than ever,” Myers said. “And they have abandoned us.”

In his research, Myers doesn’t ask immigrants whether or not they are undocumented, he said.

“They are unauthorized because there’s a social understanding that they’re not wanted,” he said. “If they’re not wanted it’s because they’re not needed … . We desperately need more children … . “We should be thankful for every immigrant.”

In fact, he said, California’s best hope of creating a solution to its age concerns is to educate minority youth.

“They haven’t been getting the best education,” Myers said.

Education is key

If California intends to maintain its economy, it must get more serious about educating its workforce, Myers said. The state can’t afford school dropouts, so money spent on education is an investment in the future.

“That girl who’s in second grade today, in 20 years she’s going to be a 27-year-old worker. You can count on it.”

California is almost 15 percent below average in its primary and secondary education spending at an average of $9,220 per student, while the national average is about $10,700. Meanwhile, California’s median income, $60,000, is about 15 percent higher than the national average.

In Placer County, the median income is closer to $74,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

It’s true, he said, that people in their 50s are spending tax dollars to support the “tax eaters” – those age 0 to 25.

“This is only a bad investment,” he said, “if you believe those kids will never grow up, if you believe in Peter Pan.”

Today’s children – of all backgrounds – will grow up to be the caretakers of today’s 50-somethings, and eventually they will have their turn as taxpayers, too. They will buy the homes of the seniors who are aging out of them.

They need good educations and good jobs to be able to afford those homes, he said.  

“My Latino friends laugh at me when I say this,” Myers said. “But the Latino who graduated from college will be able to pay me $60,000 more for my home than the Latino who graduated from high school.”

Prison ed

With the exploding prison population, Myers said, and the shortage of workers, the state has an opportunity to bridge an employment gap. For example, there’s a dearth of electricians in some areas, but it takes three years of training to become an electrician. Prison is a place where workers could receive job electrician training and earn a living wage when released so that they’d be less likely to return.

“When they come out of prison they’re not starting at zero because they’ve been put on a shelf for 10 years,” Myers said. “Electricians make a lot of money. I know because when they come to my house I have to pay them.”

Cradle to career

After Myers’ presentation, Gayle Garbolino-Mojica, superintendent of Placer County Office of Education and Willy Duncan, president of Sierra College talked about the benefits of programs that allow for more students to attend preschool and that are helping first-generation college students navigate the halls of academia.

“These are students who have real challenges in their daily lives: housing, transportation and even food,” Duncan said. “It’s important that we all get involved (to support them).”

Still, he said, tax payers need to be given more credit for their hard work.

“We ask for more, and we don’t say thank you for more,” he said. “We need to praise them … . This is a community that values education.”

This event was hosted by Placer Community Foundation, First5 Placer, Placer County Health and Human Services, Placer County Office of Education and Sierra College.

Reach reporter Tricia Caspers at triciar@goldcountrymedia.com