Americans are having fewer kids. Are housing costs to blame?

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.

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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.

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J Cosgrove
10 months ago

There are some places in the US where housing costs are very affordable. My son bought a house in New Hampshire that would cost 2-3 times as much in the New York metropolitan area and much higher than that in the Bay area of California.

I would look to college costs too. Many people are loaded down with college debt. That is something that Jesuits should be able to control for their universities.

Leon Podles
9 months 4 weeks ago

Growing Sun Belt cities tend to have moderate housing costs, while coastal cities do not. In part, this is because coastal suburbs oppose the construction of moderate to low income housing. The opposition may be party based on prejudice, but also on the fact that such housing does not pay enough in taxes to covert the demand for services that the housing generates. In cities developers are happy to build in safe neighborhoods, but the current residents don’t want new housing of any type. And regulations and union wages drive up the cost of construction.

And of course Rust Belt cities have cheap housing but not many people want to live in Detroit.
People want to live in desirable areas, and if they are desirable, people will bid up prices and rents.

I think the solution to make more areas desirable. Inner cities have many neighborhoods could double or triple their populations if they were safe and clean and had good schools. Nationwide older, failing cities have to realize that some their failure is self-inflicted, and they have to change the policies that have driven people away. Increasing the supply of acceptable housing in acceptable neighborhoods and cities would take pressure off costs and rents.

And in addition to housing costs, unstable employment makes people hesitant to have children.

Lisa Weber
9 months 3 weeks ago

Housing costs alone are not to blame. Healthcare coverage is uncertain and expensive. Those with houses have to maintain healthcare insurance because even a minor accident or illness could result in the loss of a home. A mortgage payment plus a health insurance policy would take up most of a young couple's disposable income. Add on childcare costs and/or loss of income for one parent to care for young children and you have major barriers to having a family.

Responsible people hesitate to have children when their own situation feels precarious. Having no safety net in place for a necessity like healthcare introduces uncertainty into the life of all generations. Parents might be able to help their children get established in their own home if they did not have the uncertainties of healthcare coverage in their own lives.

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