Breed, Baby, Breed

Californians have always been schizophrenic about population growth.

We complain about traffic and crowded schools and the additional revenues that growth produces. But we also miss the boost, renewal, and economic growth that population growth brings.

Either way, the birth rate is important in California -- and never more so than this era.

Immigration to the state has declined and some figures show that the state is losing more people to the rest of the United States than it is gaining from the other 49 states.

Whereas a generation ago most Californians arrived from some other state or country, today most Californians arrive via the maternity ward.

Which is why it should be big news that the state's birth rate has dropped to its lowest level since the Great Depression.

Economic factors are being blamed -- people are putting off marriage and having children because it's hard to find jobs, or buy or keep houses, the experts suggest.

Whatever the cause and whatever you think of growth, a lower birth rate -- particularly if the trend holds -- could mean many things for policy at the state level.

Yes, less growth means less consumption of public services. But it also could mean less energy, fewer new businesses, less enterprise, less in new revenues for the state. (And if you don't believe that children make you work harder, let me submit this evidence: One reason your blogger is typing away bleary-eyed at this moment is so he can afford pre-school and child care for his two children under the age of 3).

This is a new problem for California.

California has never had to reckon with the question of how to deal with slow growth. This is a state that has grown so fast for so long that the question has been, how to do more for more. Even over the recent lean decade, the state still added 400,000 in population a year.

Of course, there is one way out of this new predicament. My fellow Californians, if you want your state to grow: Breed, baby, breed.

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