Commentary: Something to Watch – Deaths Are Way Down in California This Year

Photo by Kimson Doan on Unsplash

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

The East Bay Times yesterday reported that for the first time since COVID hit in 2020, the total of number of deaths is expected to fall under 300,000 which would put it much more in line with what we saw pre-pandemic.

“The decline is primarily due to fewer COVID deaths — there have been close to 6,000 deaths from the virus so far this year, compared to over 18,000 at this time last year. To date, the virus has killed more than 104,000 Californians,” the report said.

That’s more evidence that we have finally moved past the lethal stage of the COVID epidemic.

“COVID has taken its place alongside flu and pneumonia as an endemic disease. But they all can still kill,” the report noted.

While the report focused on the public health aspect of this news, it is important to keep in mind the bigger picture.

The increased deaths over the past few years has helped to drive population projections down.  This has in part led to state projections for population growth to be downgraded from about 60 million by 2060 down to 40 million in the same time period.

Slow growthers have predictably jumped on revised demographic projects for California that show slow or even slightly declining growth over the next few decades in California to justify arguing that we don’t have a housing crisis.

I have consistently argued that the biggest driver of population decline has been the cost of housing.  That’s in line with what PPIC found.

Most surveys that look at outmigration place housing affordability as a top reason for the decline of population growth.

For instance, PPIC found, “Thirty-three percent of Californians say the cost of their housing makes them seriously consider moving out of the state, and an additional 10% consider moving elsewhere within California.”

Earlier this year, “Seven in ten Californians say housing affordability is a big problem in their part of California—the highest share saying this in our periodic surveys since 2017.”

PPIC added, “Record numbers of people have left California, according to recent data, and departures include groups who have traditionally stayed put, such as higher income earners. Many residents (45%) say housing costs have made them seriously consider moving from their part of the state—with three-quarters of this group saying they would move outside the state.”

The biggest problem seems to be the sensitivity of the projections to short-term trends.  So I always believed that once we got out of the COVID period with the increased number of deaths, disruptions to the life cycle, and economic shocks, we could have more accurate projections about where things are headed.

Eric McGhee, a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, cautioned Bloomberg that “the long-term forecast is ‘more illustrative than it is predictive,’ because it’s hard to project that far ahead.”

The projections are “based on a combination of natural increase in population — births minus deaths — and net migration.”  Birth rate is definitely an issue, as “demographers project that the number of deaths in California will exceed births by 2035.”

But we have known that for some time.  What has changed is not birth rates, but rather in- versus out-migration.  And those numbers have changed dramatically over a very short period of time.

Thus I have argued that the declining population projections are a symptom of, rather than a solution to, the housing crisis.

And even if we believe that the population will stagnate, right now, we need more housing.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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