USC Price School of Public Policy

Myers Child Population Study

L.A. Is ‘Ground Zero’ for Shrinking Child Population

By Merrill Balassone

Dowell Myers Study co-author Dowell Myers
Photo by Philip Channing

Los Angeles County is now the epicenter of California’s shrinking population of young children as families are driven away by stressful economic conditions, according to a USC analysis of census data released today.

Overall, California lost 220,041 children aged 5 to 9 in the last decade, a decline of 8.1 percent.

Los Angeles County lost 21 percent of its children in that age range.

“We are ground zero of the ‘missing children’ of California,” said co-author Dowell Myers, professor of urban planning and demography at the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development.

The loss of children in the region reflects the difficult living conditions for families facing high housing costs followed by high unemployment during the Great Recession, Myers said.

He said declining population of young children will mean fewer workers to support the retiring baby boomers.

“We’re heading into uncharted territory,” Myers said.

California’s numbers are on the extreme end of a nationwide trend toward an aging population. Myers said the drop in the state’s population of young children has meant declining student enrollment and neighborhood school closures.

But Myers noted there were still nearly 646,000 children under 5 years old in Los Angeles in need of preschools and other early childhood services.

“Our children are a precious and diminishing resource, and they deserve more support,” Myers said.

Using data first collected during the 2000 census as a benchmark, USC researchers found the number of households shared by unmarried couples in California in 2010 spiked by 32 percent.

In Riverside County, the prevalence of unmarried partner households jumped by 70 percent from 2000 to 2010. San Francisco and Santa Cruz counties had among the highest rates of unmarried partner households. In those counties, nearly one in 10 housing units were occupied by an unmarried couple.

Orange County had the lowest prevalence of unmarried partner households, which the report’s authors said reflects the area’s conservative lifestyles among its white residents and Latino and Vietnamese populations that embrace more traditional family structures.

The two reports, titled “Aging in California and Los Angeles County” and “The Changing Household and Family,” rely on a new wave of data released by the census bureau for California and other states this month.

Among the reports’ other notable findings:

  • Households with children headed by single fathers in California rose 17 percent from 2000 to 2010. The number of single-father households with children grew by 51,206, larger than the growth of households with children headed by single mothers (46,943).
  • California largely saw an upswing in the number of residents 45 and older, with the biggest gains among residents in their 50s (+37.5 percent), 60s (+47.1 percent) and 85 and older (+41.2 percent).
  • Across the state, the number of households composed of married couples and children is down since 2000. Los Angeles County saw a 14 percent decrease in the number of married couple households with children. Only Riverside County saw substantial growth (+22.6 percent) in the number of such households. Married couples with children declined in the others, resulting in losses for Orange County (7.8 percent), San Bernardino l(2 percent), San Diego (3.1 percent), Ventura County (8.1 percent) and Santa Barbara (12.6 percent).

Myers is the director of the Population Dynamics Research Group and a specialist in urban growth and development with expertise as a planner and urban demographer. He has been an advisor to the Bureau of the Census and authored Analysis With Local Census Data: Portraits of Change (Academic Press, 1992), the most widely referenced work on census analysis.

Myers’ recent report on “The California Roller Coaster” provided the first comprehensive assessment of the Great Recession to evaluate how California and Los Angeles fared compared to the nation as a whole.

Myers’ collaborators were Edward Flores, and USC graduate students Linda Lou and Hyojung Lee.

For copies of the reports and detailed breakdowns of data by geographic region, visit
usc.edu/schools/price/research/popdynamics