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Facing California's top challenge

  • This artwork by Donna Grethen relates to the aging U.S. population, as well as crimes against the elderly.

If you want to know the biggest challenge facing California over the next couple of decades, let these numbers guide your thinking:<WC>

<BL@199,12,11,10><WC1>Between 2010 and 2020, the number of people between the ages of 65 and 74 will spike by 65 percent. The number over age 75 will grow by more than a third.

<BL@199,12,11,10>From 1970 through 2010, there were about 20 Californians over 65 for every 100 of working age. By 2040, that ratio will reach 38 to 100. In other words, it will just about double.

<BL@199,12,11,10>About half of the 6.2 million children attending school in California come from low-income families, and about a quarter come from homes in which English is not spoken.

Those numbers come from, respectively, population projections of the Legislative Analyst's Office, USC demographers and the State Department of Education.

Mix them all together and they lead to an inescapable conclusion: If the economy is going to have any hope of supporting an aging population, tomorrow's workers are going to have to be very productive.

And for that to happen, a great many kids from disadvantaged backgrounds are going to have to find a place in an economy that demands educated workers.

<WC>"<WC1>It is a really different world from what it was even 20 or 30 years ago,<WC>"<WC1> says Ted Lempert, president of the Oakland-based advocacy group Children Now. <WC>"<WC1>It's not going to work any more just to make sure that 20 percent of the kids are getting a good education.<WC>"

<WC1>Lempert and his organization are part of a coalition advocating for Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposal to simplify school funding, give local school boards more discretion on how to spend it, and provide supplemental funds to schools that have the greatest concentrations of students with economic and cultural challenges.

He told me this week he's been disappointed that much of the initial response to Brown's proposal has focused on a discussion of winners and losers.


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