Who is going to pay all that money in to Social Security for Boomer retirement?
Alarm bells are beginning to ring in policy circles over the decline of the U.S. birth rate to a record low. If unaddressed, this could pose a vital threat the nation’s economic and demographic vitality over the next few decades.
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Yet since children are by definition the bearers of the future, knowing where new families and households are forming should be of critical interest not only to demographers, but to investors, businesses and, over time, even politicians. Demographer Wendell Cox crunched Census data for Forbes on the youth populations of the 51 largest U.S. metropolitan statistical areas. His analysis reveals sharp differences between various regions of the country, and suggests where future growth in the country may be the strongest.
The youth population expanded in 31 of the 51 metro areas from 2000 to 2010. The 10 regions that posted the strongest growth were in Texas, the Southeast and the Intermountain West. Leading the nation is Raleigh, N.C., where the number of children under 15 rose a whopping 45%, or 77,421. Texas is experiencing something of a baby boom, paced by Austin, second among America’s largest metro areas with a youth population expansion of 38%; Dallas-Ft. Worth (sixth); Houston (eighth); and San Antonio (11th).
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What do these trends mean for the future? New York has lost about as many children as Dallas-Ft. Worth has gained — a difference of a half million. The gap between increasingly childless Los Angeles and Houston is even wider, and approaches 600,000. These numbers suggest a tremendous shift in the future locations of new American households, with all that implies for retail sales, workforce growth and residential construction demand.
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Why is household formation and child-rearing so anemic in these places, which are often celebrated for being attractive to the young and dominate so many key industries? One key reason, suspects demographer Cox, is housing prices relative to incomes. This is largely due to high regulatory costs that discourage new housing supply, particularly the single-family homes preferred by most families. Housing costs relative to incomes are more than two times higher in New York or Los Angeles than in Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Atlanta or, for that matter, virtually all the metropolitan areas most attractive to families.
Today roughly 18.5% of the U.S. population is over 60, compared to 16.3% a decade ago; by 2020 that percentage is expected to rise to 22.2%, and by 2050 to a full 25%.
Yet the graying of America is not uniform across the country — some places are considerably older than others. The oldest metropolitan areas, according to an analysis of the 2010 census by demographer Wendell Cox, have twice as high a concentration of residents over the age of 60 as the youngest. In these areas, it’s already 2020, and some may get to 2050 aging levels decades early.
For the most part, the oldest metropolitan areas — with the exception of longtime Florida retirement havens Tampa-St. Petersburg and Miami — tend to be clustered in the old industrial regions of the country. These are regions that have suffered mightily from deindustrialization and the movement of people toward the South and West. These metro areas now make up eight of the 10 oldest among the nation’s 51 largest metropolitan statistical areas.
The oldest city in America is Pittsburgh, where 23.6% of the metro area’s population is over 60 (see the full list in the table below). The old steel capital is followed by such former robust manufacturing hubs as Buffalo (No. 3 on our list), Cleveland (fifth), and Detroit (ninth).
How did these places get so old? The biggest factor: migration deficits. More Americans have been leaving these cities than moving there, and people who move tend to be younger. Meanwhile these graying cities attract relatively few immigrants from abroad. Pittsburgh, for example, ranks 34th among the 51 biggest metro areas in net domestic migration, losing some 2% of its population to other places over the past decade. It also stands 50th in foreign immigration over the same period. Buffalo has fared even worse: it’s 40th in domestic migration and 49th in new foreign-born residents.
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More troublesome may be the labor force impacts of rapid aging, as there is a shortage of some skilled workers, both in the Rust Belt and tech centers, particularly younger ones. This reality is already causing problems in Europe, particularly in the economically devastated south, and also more prosperous East Asia, particularly Japan.
An older population, and fewer families, tend to depress economic growth, consumer demand and entrepreneurial creativity. Japan today is not only much older, but also more financially hard-pressed than in its ’80s heyday, heavily in debt and losing its once dominant position in several critical industries.