6 Factors Inhibiting Family Growth in California
California has some of the lowest fertility rates in the nation, coming in at 1.6 in 2019. The number is expected to decrease even more. One recent study projects that 25% of American millennial women will be childless, a significant uptick from historical U.S. trends.
While reasons for lowered fertility rates are multifaceted, bad economic policies are also hindering family growth. Below are six factors that demonstrate how Sacramento’s misguided policy agenda is inhibiting family growth in California.
- Highest Supplemental Poverty Rates in the Nation
As Kerry Jackson pointed out in his 2018 study on poverty, Good Intentions, California consists of only 12% of the U.S. population, but one-third of the nation’s welfare population. When taking government programs into account, California has the highest poverty rates in the nation at 20.6 percent. The study concluded that many of the government programs designed to help California’s impoverished worsens the problem.
Being able to start or grow a family may be financially unrealistic for the one-fifth of Californians that live in state-sanctioned poverty.
- Housing Shortage and Rising Costs of Homes
It is no secret that California needs to build new housing. Because of the shortage, home prices have risen 18 percent in Southern California and 26.5 percent in the Bay Area. Despite the need, the efforts of homebuilders are continually thwarted by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and other laws which frequently prohibit affordable housing projects from moving forward.
As a result, first-time home buyers (which largely consist of young families) end up competing at a disadvantage for the already limited-homes, as others have the resources to pay in cash or put down larger down payments. Younger Californians may be reluctant to start their family when confined to small apartment spaces.
- Smaller Homes and Smaller Yards
Not only are California home prices extremely high, but of all 50 states, California has the second smallest average lot size in the country. The median California home is about 1,625 square feet, about 700 square feet smaller than the national average. Because of regulations like CEQA, homebuilders typically build smaller than average homes on less land. They also opt to re-zone suburban areas to build multi-family housing rather than apply for hard-to-get new land use permits.
Such YIMBY (yes in my backyard) policies can create more affordable housing. But we need an all-of-the-above approach to new housing. We need dense housing to boost supply, meet demand, and lower costs, but we also need large family homes with big yards to satisfy the needs of those who want many children. When reforming CEQA, we should allow for easier approval to build all types of homes, including more traditional family homes.
- Homelessness Crisis
12 percent of the United States’ population lives in California, but so does a whopping 27 percent of the nation’s homeless population. Heightened homelessness threatens public safety due to the spread of illnesses, higher crime, and use of drugs. Once confined to downtown areas in California cities, encampments can be found in suburban areas all over the state.
Families concerned for the peace and safety of their children may choose to simply leave the state.
- High Taxes
California is home to some of the highest personal and corporate income taxes in the country. And as Michael Thom explained in his recent Nickel and Dimed study, government-imposed fees on vehicle registrations, cell phone bills, electricity, tires, mattresses, and other products function as regressive taxes.
When a couple sits down to look at their expenses each month, such high taxes may constrain families from being able to set aside money for the birth of a new child.
- Education quality and curriculum
While some parents may be concerned with the quality of California education, others find themselves troubled over the passage of controversial curriculums. By providing charter school options, concerned parents have the freedom to find schools that best fit the needs of their children. However, legislators continually threaten the stability of California’s charter schools through bills like AB 1505 or AB 1316.
Parents who want other options for their children may not be able to homeschool or may not be able to afford private school tuition.
The policies above certainly make the Golden State’s situation appear bleak, but all is not lost for young California families! Keep an eye out for the upcoming blog post: 6 Solutions to Encourage Family Growth in California.
McKenzie Richards is a development associate at the Pacific Research Institute.