This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Children Are at an All-Time Low as a Percent of US Population

The Population Reference Bureau this week released a report on some of the major findings from the 2010 Census, and among the things picked up by the press was that children now represent an historic low as a percent of the US population.

Currently, the share of children in the U.S. is 24 percent, falling below the previous low of 26 percent of 1990. The share is projected to slip further, to 23 percent by 2050, even as the percentage of people 65 and older is expected to jump from 13 percent to 19 percent due to the aging of baby boomers and beyond.
In 1900, the share of children reached as high as 40 percent, compared to a much smaller 4 percent share for seniors 65 and older. The percentage of children in subsequent decades held above 30 percent until 1980, when it fell to 28 percent amid declining birth rates, mostly among whites.
Social theory would suggest that as the number of children declines, then there should be greater investment in each child--trading quality for quantity. That may work in the classic family setting of two parents and their children, with no older people to care for, but the analogy may not cross over into the community setting.
"There are important implications for the future of the U.S. because the increasing costs of providing for an older population may reduce the public resources that go to children," said William P. O'Hare, a senior consultant with the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation, a children's advocacy group.
Pointing to signs that many children are already struggling, O'Hare added: "These raise urgent questions about whether today's children will have the resources they need to help care for America's growing elderly population."
Part of the problem lies in the potential difficulty of "generational bonding" when the older US population is predominantly non-Hispanic white, whereas an increasing fraction of younger people are children of immigrants.
The latest 2010 census data show that children of immigrants make up one in four people under 18, and are now the fastest-growing segment of the nation's youth, an indication that both legal and illegal immigrants as well as minority births are lifting the nation's population.
"The `minority youth bulge' is being driven primarily by children in immigrant families," said Mark Mather, associate vice president of the Population Reference Bureau who co-wrote a report released Tuesday on the subject. "They are transforming America's schools, and in a generation they will transform the racial-ethnic composition of the U.S. work force."
"Policymakers are paying a lot of attention to the elderly, but we have a large population of children who have their own needs," he said.
The numbers come as states around the nation are seeking to cut education spending and other programs — rather than raise taxes — to close gaping budget holes as schools districts run out of $100 billion in federal stimulus money that helped stave off job losses over the past two years.

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