Darrell Berkheimer: Nevada County at fore of aging world | TheUnion.com

Darrell Berkheimer: Nevada County at fore of aging world

It’s quite possible that Nevada County already has passed that point where adult diapers sell more than baby diapers. If so, we can expect that sales gap to grow. And if not, that situation is fast approaching.

That’s already the situation in Japan, where the population has been shrinking.

A similar shrinkage is forecast for the United States, China and the rest of the world as birth rates continue to decline everywhere except in parts of Africa.

Meanwhile, people are living longer and national populations are aging, creating a work force shrinkage at both ends.

Our U.S. growth rate already has shrunk not only because of a lower birth rate, but also a decline in immigration.

“Don’t be fooled by the ridiculous claims (by Republicans) that we have an overall immigration crisis,” advised a March opinion piece in The Miami Herald. “The real story is that the United States badly needs more legal immigrants.”

That decline in immigration is verified by a Pew Research Center report. It revealed the numbers of U.S. foreign-born immigrants have dropped from 11.5 million people in the 1990s to 8.8 million in the 2000s, then to 4.8 million in this last decade.

And just two weeks ago, a New York Times story reported, “demographers now predict that by the latter half of the century, or possibly earlier, the global population will enter a sustained decline for the first time.”

We’re advised to “imagine entire regions where everyone is 70 or older. Imagine governments laying out huge bonuses for immigrants and mothers with lots of children. Imagine a gig economy filled with grandparents and Super Bowl ads promoting procreation.”

Italy is closing maternity wards. “Ghost cities are appearing in northeastern China,” and Germany is razing hundreds of thousands of properties and turning them into parks, The Times story reported.

Here in the United States, the birth rate has dropped to 1.7 per woman. Even in India and Mexico, birth rates are falling toward, or are already below, the replacement rate of 2.1 children per family.

And we’ve learned that the population boom has ended in California. For the first time in its 170-year history, California will lose a congressional seat — dropping from 53 to 52 in the House of Representatives.

California’s growth rate has suffered from a triple whammy: the decline in birth rate, lower immigration, and the high cost of living led by expensive housing. The median price of a single-family home in California hit a record $758,990 in March, up 24 percent from a year ago.

That expensive living is prompting some folks to leave. In 2019, 1.7 percent of California’s population moved to other states, while only 1.0 percent moved in.

Statewide data show that births have declined by more than 15 percent during the past decade. The decline is even higher here in Nevada County.

The Nevada County Recorder’s Office reported 726 births here last year, compared to 897 in 2010. That’s a 19 percent decline.

In 2012, Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital closed its Family Birthing Center. Hospital CEO Mitch Hanna reported the births there in 2010 through 2012 had totaled “right around 350” per year, less than one per day.

Another New York Times article early last month reported California birth rates have steadily fallen “since the aftermath of World War II, when the boom first sent the state’s population soaring.”

The Times story added that the “average age of first birth in California rose from 28 in 2010 to 31 by 2019, a function of living costs, employment prospects and the state’s higher levels of education.”

On aging, The Times said, “Older adults have outpaced growth in children or working-age adults to become the state’s fastest-growing age group. The state projects that by 2030, more than 9 million Californians will be over age 65.”

That’s nearly one-third of the state’s current population.

But Nevada County won’t need to wait until 2030 for that to happen. The 2019 estimates indicate 37 percent of the county’s 99,000 population already is age 60 and above. And we can expect the 2020 census will reveal an even higher percentage.

All of these numbers indicate Nevada County already is a microcosm of the future for our entire nation. I think we can expect to see the county’s numbers grow worse much quicker.

The lower birth rate is exacerbated by the inability of younger families to afford housing here. Right now, older citizens are outbidding one another to buy most of the houses that become available in Nevada County.

Thus, a period of school closures and consolidations is fast approaching as declining attendance forces the cost per student to become unjustifiable and prohibiting.

If this situation does not prompt local officials to move faster in developing some new and different ways to create affordable housing here, the question becomes: Is there anything that will?

Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a frequent contributor to The Union. He has eight books available through Amazon. His sixth, “Essays from The Golden Throne,” includes 60 columns published by The Union, plus a dozen western travel and photo essays. Contact him at mtmrnut@yahoo.com.

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