California is the largest state in the USA by population. At nearly 40 million people, around 12 per cent of the Republic’s total population lives there. This population dominance gives the state a large amount of political heft: it has 53 congressional representatives and 55 Electoral College votes. This means that the winner of the state of California is over one-fifth of the way to winning the White House. (A state’s representation in the Senate is, of course, not based upon population – each state receives two Senators, irrespective of its population.)
However, California’s future population predominance is in doubt. The state’s Department of Finance recently released one of its periodic reports on California’s population trends and this revealed that growth has slowed dramatically. In 2018, the Golden State grew by nearly 187,000 people, but this represented a growth rate of 0.47 per cent, the lowest in recorded history. In the state’s last great population boom of the 1980s, the population was growing at four times the 2018 level.
During the 1980s there was a strong inflow of people from other states, there were even more people coming from overseas (legally or not) and there were more than 600,000 babies born each year in the state. Nowadays the situation is very different: there is a net outflow of people to other states in the Union; foreign immigration is close to zero and the number of births each year is below 500,000. At the same time, the baby boomers are starting to die off and the death rate is creeping upwards. Overall the state is becoming more elderly: more like states in the East or upper Midwest than other states in the south west.
California’s political clout exploded along with its population: in the 1990 census the state was awarded seven additional congressional seats to reflect its population boom in the decade before (which saw it grow from 24 to 30 million people). In 2000 it was awarded only one more congressional seat and was awarded none in 2010. Demographers predict that California will be lucky to break even in the upcoming 2020 census; it could even lose one congressional seat.
Aside from this relative decline in political influence, economically the future is far from golden. There will be fewer workers entering the state’s economy, a situation not helped by the low academic gains in the state’s school system and high housing costs; these push educated denizens to other states and discourage migration to the state. A chronic lack of trained or trainable workers will translate to less economic investment and will make providing services to the rapidly ageing population more difficult. In the years ahead, it is expected that the state will need to fill more than 107,000 new health care jobs each year.
According to the Public Policy Institute of California, these numbers will only be achievable with a large inflow of foreign-born workers. Currently, nearly a third of California’s current workforce in foreign-born (twice the national level). Without more and more immigrants to fill the healthcare sector, this $400 billion industry (the state’s largest single economic activity) will be hard to staff.
Marcus Roberts is co-editor of Demography is Destiny, MercatorNet's blog on population issues.