California’s population will continue to grow modestly in the coming years – and that’s a trend state residents should stop complaining about and start acting upon.

So says demographer Dowell Myers of the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy.

Article Tab: Modest population growth will be reflected in the pace of home sales.
Modest population growth will be reflected in the pace of home sales.

$ell SmArt… with Art!

This isn’t rocket science. It’s been roughly a quarter-century since the last true boom times. Still, dreams of a revitalized California – and Orange County, too – fueled by a rapid influx of out-of-towners and foreign immigrants is “way out of alignment with reality,” Myers said. “We tend to hold on to ideas we learned 20 years go. It’s time to reassess.”

Myers told an Orange County audience last week that, in 2007, state demographers estimated California would hit 50 million residents by 2032. Today’s outlook, he said, is that landmark will happen in more like 2049.

It’s not just body counts. Long-running demographics trends show the classic new Californian is likely not an out-of-towner, rather a person born in the state. Since 1990, the state’s growth engines have changed from newcomers to locals. That shift affects everything from land planning to education to business regulation. By JONATHAN LANSNER

More challenging, Myers said, is the state’s shortage of children. Yes, we’re not making them – new people, that is – like we used to. And residents aren’t getting any younger.

Worse, Myers notes that many folks, including policy-makers, won’t acknowledge the powerful demographic changes. Rapid growth is out. “The (fast-growth) 1980s were a freakish period that will never happen again,” he said.

And that’s not all bad. Take real estate. “Boom and bust hasn’t been pretty. Steady, 4 percent growth in home prices versus 20 percent in a year – that’s unsustainable and then it crashes back down.”

Slower growth, especially among the ranks of the state’s youth, will mean an aging California population that will need a better-educated workforce to draw top wages to pay the societal bills for the graying generations.

Whatever is spent on improving education, Myers said, will be recouped in many ways. That includes an improved housing market as today’s youth grow up into house-shoppers.

“Education is a good investment,” Myers said.

Sadly, Myers frets that these same demographic patterns have been downplayed or used as political fodder. He thinks too many interested parties, not just political ones, haven’t thought about the full meaning of the changes. The state’s legacy of carefully calibrating growth in many slices of life should now be rethought.

This thinking is not new math. Hoping for magical growth spurts isn’t logical. How the state and its communities – public and private – do everything, including paying bills and shaping raw land to rebuild old communities, must be reinvented to accommodate a future filled with more-modest growth.

“We’re 23 years behind the curve,” Myers said. “It’s inexcusable. You can’t run a business that way … you certainly can’t run a government that way.”

That’s not good, or bad. It’s simply reality.