USC Price School of Public Policy

USC demographic forum spotlights CA’s stagnating population, housing crisis

July 26, 2017

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USC Price Professor Dowell Myers (Photo by David Giannamore) More photos available on Flickr »

By Matthew Kredell

In a turbulent era with people wondering where the country is headed, even those whose jobs are to make such projections find the task challenging. The 28th annual Demographic Workshop, hosted by the USC Price School of Public Policy and the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) in June, addressed the volatility and uncertainty of post-recession demographic and economic trends.

Dowell Myers, a professor of urban planning and demography for USC Price who has been a key part of the conference for 18 years, explained its endurance and presence in Los Angeles.

Myers, left, with SCAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata and SCAG President Margaret Finlay (Photo by David Giannamore)

“There’s a belief that Los Angeles is the greatest demographic laboratory in the United States,” Myers said. “Los Angeles is where it happens. This is where the trends start first, and where they end first. There’s such a growing demand for demographic data and analysis that [the annual workshop] now seems entrenched as an institution in Los Angeles.”

With the theme “Volatile Demographics: How High and How Low,” the event focused on the underlying reasons for a huge shift in the population forecast in California. In 2007, the California Department of Finance projected the state would reach a population of 50 million in 2031. A decade later, projections pushed back the date that California’s population would hit 50 million to 2055.

From population boom to bust

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Louise Rollin-Alamillo of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health with Ethan Sharygin of the California Department of Finance (Photo by David Giannamore) More photos available on Flickr »

The first two panels explained the reasons why population growth has slowed, addressing the lower fertility rate and stagnation of migration and immigration.

Louise Rollin-Alamillo from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health noted that for a couple to replace themselves, they must have 2.1 children on average. In 1990, the average number of children a woman would bear in L.A. County was 2.7 — higher than the state (2.5) and national (2.1) figures. Now, the state and national figures are 1.9, and LAC has fallen slightly below 1.8.

Ethan Sharygin from the State Department of Finance provided five underlying causes for the decrease in fertility rate: education, contraceptive technology, housing prices, economic changes and social factors. In essence, people are having fewer unplanned babies and waiting for economic stability before they raise a family, which has shifted the peak ages for childbearing from 20-24 in 1990 to 30-34 in 2010.

Migration and immigration to the state have allowed for a small level of growth despite the drop in fertility rate, but those figures also leveled off greatly due to the recession. The course of immigration may also be shifted by policy changes from the Trump administration.

Audrey Singer from the Urban Institute cited that foreign-born growth in California has gone from 37 percent in the 1990s to 15 percent in the 2000s, and accounted for 11 percent in the first half of this decade.

A majority of the professions projected to show the most growth by 2024 are low-skilled jobs, mostly in the construction industry, that will need immigrants to fill them.

California’s housing crisis

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Megan Kirkeby from the California Department of Housing and Community Development (Photo by David Giannamore) More photos available on Flickr »

Megan Kirkeby from the California Department of Housing and Community Development presented data from the draft statewide housing assessment that will have its final release this summer. Nearly one-third of renters in the state face a severe rent burden, paying more than half of their monthly income. The state loses upwards of $200 billion annually as a result of not having sufficient housing capacity.

Possible solutions laid out in the assessment fall into three broad categories: reforming land-use policies, addressing housing access and needs for vulnerable populations, and investing in affordable homes and community development.

Economist Michael Bracken noted that since 2010 there has been one home built in California for every 5.25-person increase in the population. Bracken suggested recreating redevelopment with tax-increment financing to produce infrastructure and low-to-moderate income housing.

In her keynote address, Elizabeth Rhodes, research director for the Basic Income Project at Y Combinator Research, summarized the benefits of providing a universal basic income, unconditional cash payments to individuals to ensure a minimum level of economic security, as a solution to rising wealth inequality.

“We are in the midst of one of the greatest economic, social and cultural transformations the United States and the world have ever experienced,” said Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of SCAG. “Understanding the changing paradigm is critical for us as a region if we’re going to remain the global leader we’ve been.”