California’s stubbornly high unemployment rate reflects structural problems that simply will not go away.
That view, as outlined by economist Bill Watkins, executive director of California Lutheran University’s CERF program in a statewide forecast released on March 19, includes a crippling lack of population growth.
“Low births and net out migration have resulted in the slowest California population growth” since the early 1900s, he wrote, adding that “it’s only a matter of time before California’s population declines.”
A declining population would almost certainly reduce demand for the services and consumer goods that are at the heart of the state’s economy.
Until the state’s population begins to grow again, Watkins suggests the housing recovery will be hit and miss and California will underperform the rest of the nation.
What would solve the problem — significant immigration reform, policies that made it easier for California businesses to expand and hire new workers, and looser restrictions on development in high cost coastal communities.
Immigration reform on the national level would clearly help California — as well as North Carolina, Colorado and Virginia among others. But as long as California drives its best college graduates and young families away in large numbers, the state will remain at a competitive disadvantage and this demographic time bomb will keep ticking.
Outmigration is so well established as a trend that it will be hard to reverse but California slides toward recovery thanks to tourism, booming farm exports and Federal Reserve policies that artificially bolster the housing market. We are relying on the kindness of strangers and not taking care of our own.