Is California As Big as We Think?

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We're not growing as fast as we think.

Much of the political debate in California rests on assumption: that the population will keep up its relative rapid growth. Official state estimates say the population, now less than 38 million, will reach 44 million by the end of this decade and 50 million by 2032.

But a new report from USC says we're not moving that fast. That's because the population of senior citizens is growing, while the share of the population represented by children is falling. And California is less of a destination for new immigrants.

As a result, USC projects a population of 40.8 million at the end of this decade -- and that we won't hit 50 million in population until 2046.

This, the report says, is a return to normal after post-normal growth, particularly in the 1980s, a decade of great immigration.

What does this mean for policy? It may make things tougher for advocates of big infrastructure investments -- which is too bad, since the state has a huge deficit -- more than $750 billion by some estimates -- just on existing needs. At the same time, this change means that California, with fewer kids and new residents coming into the system, must do a much better job educating the young people it does have, just to meet its jobs needs.

It also suggests that California badly needs policies that assist immigrants in integrating with society and finding good education for their children. The most stunning statistic in the report is that the children of immigrants are expected to account for virtually all -- 98 percent -- of the growth in the California workforce.

You can check out the study here.

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Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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