The birth rate in California is at its lowest ever, the state’s department of finance reported in December, at 12.4 births a year for every 1,000 people. One suspected reason is the shortage of affordable housing for young adults who may have the wish, if not the finances, to start a family. “It’s just been harder to get things in place before having kids,” the demographer Dowell Myers told The San Francisco Chronicle.
Birth rates are falling and housing costs are rising across the United States, and though the two trends have not been linked conclusively, it is clearly more difficult to raise children in a nurturing environment without housing security. That is one reason Catholic Charities USA decided last fall to make affordable housing one of its top priorities through 2022; it also devoted an issue of its quarterly magazine to the topic. There are other ways to encourage family formation, including guaranteed parental leave and child care assistance as well as tax incentives. Family-friendly policies help to explain why France has one of the highest birth rates in Europe. But these policies alone will not make up for the soaring costs of rent and first-time homeownership.
One reason for the affordable-housing shortage is that homes have become so expensive for developers to build. As a recent report by the Urban Institute pointed out, “In many places, the rent the poorest families can pay is too little to cover the costs of operating an apartment building, even if developers could build that building for free.” The United States should consider innovative policies—including housing vouchers for low-income families and subsidies for the developers of affordable housing—to help provide the economic security needed for healthy family formation.