Placer Town Hall 2018: Demographics and the Economic Outlook for Placer County
Those of us that call Placer County home know first-hand what a wonderful place it is to live and work. We enjoy exceptional schools, adventure and outdoor facilities, a largely philanthropic spirit and an active community. By and large, we have no reason not to be optimistic about our economic future.
But as was discussed at last week's Placer Town Hall, the truth might be found in recent population statistics. University of Southern California professor and demographer Dr. Dowell Myers asserts that Placer County may soon be bearing the financial brunt of California's growing senior population. While the nation as a whole is experiencing the effects of aging Baby Boomers, Placer County is home to more than any other California county and "top heavy" according to the statistics shared by Myers.
What does that mean for us as Placer County residents? While it's long been believed that children, what most of us consider "other people's children", are the major burden on the tax system, Myers points out that senior citizens, in fact, will be our most expensive liability. "They want and deserve healthcare and social security, at some point they'll want to sell their homes at a good price, and they will make their voices heard at the ballot box." And everyone younger than them will be footing the bill.
Any school administrator will tell you that, for the last decade or so, our region's schools districts have been struggling with a pattern of declining enrollment (Older adults, buoyed by advances in healthcare, are aging in place. Combined with housing prices that continue to rise above the national median and scarce affordable childcare, fewer young families are moving in to replace the children that have graduated.) and that trend shows no signs of reversing. As we look across the next 20 years, Placer County's population projections show a surge in those over 65 years old. By Myers' calculation, that means, because they will be supporting double the number of retirees, children born in 2015 are exactly twice as important as those born before 1985 (aka the rest of us).
As Myers bluntly stated, "New kids won't help us. They won't be old enough in time to contribute. We have to work on the kids we already have" to ensure we have the financial resources, tax base and workforce to support our seniors. A 'Who's Who' of Placer County - Superintendent of Schools Gayle Garbolino-Mojica, Sierra College President Willy Duncan, Placer Community Foundation CEO Veronica Blake, First 5 Placer Executive Director Janice LeRoux and Sheriff (ret.) Ed Bonner - agreed that the single most critical and cost-effective move we can make is to increase the investment in our kids, to make sure they are educated and trained for success. As Duncan pointed out, "This can no longer be only our schools' job. We all need to take part, cradle to career. We need everyone's kids to be part of this solution."
With Myers' optimism - "You can do it here in Placer. You're small, you're nimble, you have much in place; you can move the needle." - the panel detailed efforts across the County that will invest in and prepare our kids to be valuable contributors to society, trained in the jobs that are coming down the pike, and entrepreneurial with their futures. Programs like Sierra College's Promise, PCOE's advances in entrepreneurism, First 5's efforts to provide access to affordable childcare are non-political rallying points that hope to move our local economy forward in the short-term.
On the other end of the spectrum, politicians continue to battle with the fact that while Californians' income is 15% higher than the national average, our state spends 14% less per student, a quagmire that can only be remedied by private funding, investing in our kids. As Myers put it, "It's nice for the kids, but it's smart for the adults. Our economy will never be better than what we invest in it."