Capitol Alert

California birth rate drops to Great Depression levels

A baby born in Sacramento County in 2012. The state’s birth rate between July 1, 2015 and July 1, 2016 is the lowest in modern state history.
A baby born in Sacramento County in 2012. The state’s birth rate between July 1, 2015 and July 1, 2016 is the lowest in modern state history. rbyer@sacbee.com

California’s birth rate has fallen to the lowest levels in modern state history, according to new Department of Finance estimates, which peg the state population at 39.4 million after growing by 295,000 from July 1, 2015 to July 1, 2016.

The birth rate of 12.42 live births per 1,000 people is down from a rate of 13.69 per 1,000 people at the time of the 2010 census, according to Monday’s report. The next-lowest birth rate was in 1933, one of the worst years of the Great Depression.

California today bears little resemblance to what it was during the 1930’s meltdown, when unemployment soared, personal finances collapsed, and millions of people stood in food lines. Unemployment last month stood at 5.3 percent and the state, along with the country, is in the eighth year of an economic expansion.

A shift in education and workplace trends seems to be responsible for the latest decline in birth rates, said Walter Schwarm of the Department of Finance’s demographics unit.

“The going theory is that as college becomes more important, we have a larger number of individuals going to college than ever before,” he said. That delays child bearing, as does people looking to establish themselves professionally after earning degrees. As a result, many first-time parents are in their 30’s, he said.

California’s death rate, meanwhile, has ticked up as members of the Baby Boomer generation get older. The death rate increased to 6.71 per 1,000 people in the year ending July 1, up from 6.26 per 1,000 at the time of the 2010 census.

While the increase in native-born residents slows, net migration to California from other parts of the U.S. and countries continues to add to the state’s population. During the year ending July 1, net migration added 70,000 people to California.

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