GOLIS: It's true: Demography is destiny
Published: Sunday, January 13, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 11, 2013 at 6:05 p.m.
The three news stories in three separate newspapers seemed to have nothing in common, except that they were all published on the same day last week.
The Press Democrat reported that the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors agreed to spend $375,000 on training, mentoring and scholarship programs — part of the collaborative effort called Cradle to Career.
The Wall Street Journal reported that declining birthrates and declining immigration could mean economic trouble for California in the future.
The New York Times reported that the nation's newest “it” city is Nashville, Tenn. A recent Gallup Poll listed the city among the top five regions for job creation. “It's good to be in Nashville right now,” Mayor Karl Dean told the Times.
Some will remember that Dean came to Sonoma County last September to talk up the importance of education in building a successful community. “You've got to have a thriving economy,” he told community leaders, “and schools are a big part of it.”
For a long time, of course, city and county officials in California couldn't be bothered with conversations about public education. In a state awash in government agencies — including 40 school districts in Sonoma County — education was somebody else's problem.
It never made sense to blame schools alone for declining student performance. Many factors — healthy families, safe neighborhoods, nutrition, quality health care and more — influence student success. But scapegoating schools became the path of least resistance.
Now we're coming to learn that it's important for all of us to support education — a point made several times last week as county supervisors approved their new education initiative. (Full disclosure: One of the beneficiaries, Scholarship Sonoma County, is affiliated with Community Foundation Sonoma County, where I sit on the board of directors.)
If, as is said, demography is destiny, we have a lot to talk about in California.
The Wall Street Journal reminded us that millions of baby boomers are heading toward retirement, leaving someone else to do the work and to pay the taxes. Who will that be?
The Journal cited a new report with an unnerving title: “California's Diminishing Resource: Children.”
The study from the University of Southern California and the Lucile Packard Foundation points out that in 1970, children made up one-third of the population of the state. By 2030, children will comprise only one-fifth of the population.
In 1970, there were 21 seniors for every 100 state residents. By 2030, there will be 36 seniors for every 100 residents.
These demographic changes are even more pronounced in Sonoma County, where a rush of baby boomers fueled the rapid population growth of the 1970s and 1980s.
As California baby boomers retire at the rate of almost 2 million a year, who will fill those jobs? And who will pay the taxes for the social programs that serve a burgeoning population of seniors?
“We have a massive replacement problem statewide,” USC demographer Dowell Myers told the Journal.
In simple terms, the success of every student matters — and yet more children are growing up without the advantages that nurture academic and job success. Twenty percent of the state's children live below the federal poverty level.
Stephen Levy, director of the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy, told the Journal that investments in education will be essential to meeting workforce needs and preventing an economic contraction.
With revenues from a new tax hike and proposals to reduce state mandates and provide additional support for low-income students and English learners, Gov. Jerry Brown seems to be doing everything he can. Brown wants to bump K-12 spending by $2 billion in the coming year, the Sacramento Bee reported.
Still, state support for schools has declined since 2008, and it would be wishful to think state support for public education, from kindergarten to college, is going to undergo some magical turnaround. Outside additional spending for education, Brown said, this remains a “live within our means” budget.
While praising Brown's plan to restore support for schools, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson acknowledged, “It will take years to bring our education system back to financial health.”
Thus, local government is obliged to take up the slack whenever it can. This new homegrown approach emerges from a clear-eyed understanding of how a recession in combination with self-inflicted wounds limit the state's capacity to support education, safe neighborhoods and more.
In Sonoma County, the Cradle to Career program also recognizes that we can pay now to increase the prospects of educational success, or we can pay later. When we pay later, the costs will be measured in more low-income families, a shrinking tax base, higher rates of crime, a drain on social services and other social dysfunctions.
It's the cliche of all cliches. Every time someone says, “children are our future,” I want to run from the room.
The thing is ... it happens to be true.
Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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