USC study finds big drop in number of children living in L.A. County

Los Angeles County is “ground zero” for the state’s diminishing child population, a statistic that could point to serious problems as the region tries to meet future demand for workers, according to a report released Tuesday.

The number of children between the ages of 5 and 9 in the county decreased by 21% from 2000 to 2010, dropping from 802,047 to 633,690. The average decrease for California was 8.1%, according to the report “Aging in California and Los Angeles County” by USC.

“In the long run … this is really a bad problem because these kids are going to grow up and the ones who are missing [from L.A. County] are likely not going to work here,” said Dowell Myers, one of the report’s authors. “That workforce is going to be in very short supply.

Myers said California’s shrinking child population, reflected in new census figures, is on the “extreme end” of an overall aging U.S. population because of the maturing of the baby boomer generation. One result has been declining student enrollment and the closure of schools.

“There’s just fewer potential parents and that’s part of what’s driving it,” Myers said. “The implications are that we really need to think about building a more supportive environment for families and kids. Our children are a precious and diminishing resource, and they deserve more support.”

Researchers attributed much of the disproportionate local loss to difficult living conditions for families facing high housing costs and high unemployment. The report’s authors also noted findings released by the Brookings Institution in April that showed the greater Los Angeles area was bucking a national trend with a declining Latino child population.

Another finding was that more than half of the state’s population is over age 35, about two years older than the median age of 33.3 in 2000. Additionally, researchers said the number of minors in L.A. County dropped 10% from 2000 to 2010, more than any other area in the state.

A second USC report, “The Changing Household and Family,” released Tuesday said new demographic trends are “changing the meaning of what is a conventional household.”

There were 32% more households with unmarried couples throughout the state in 2010 than a decade earlier. There also was a 17% increase in the number of California homes that have children with single fathers, a surprising statistic because it was a larger increase than the number of homes headed by single mothers.

In L.A. County, there also was a 14% decrease in the number of households with married couples and children from 2000 to 2010, the data showed.

“We’re heading into uncharted territory,” Myers said.

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-0525-usc-report-20110525,0,367814.story

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