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updated 7/13/2011 12:50:16 PM ET 2011-07-13T16:50:16

The portion of the U.S. population that is under 15 years of age has dropped slightly during the last decade, and the ripple effect of this already has repercussions on the economy. While the resources that children need are different than those of adults, for governments they are not less expensive. Most government expenses have to do with education. However, the recession has added other costs: The costs of food and other programs such as Food Stamps, or the cost of housing as the inventories of foreclosed homes and the number of adults chronically unemployed rises. The challenges vary considerably from state to state because in some the percentage of the population under 15 has fallen sharply.

The problems of the young are are not discussed much as the focus of the press and Washington policy has been on those people who are elderly now and the generation of Baby Boomers who are just behind them. The federal debt and increases in the deficit have put the retirement support of these people at risk. The credit crisis and state and municipal deficits have spawned an austerity movement that is unprecedented in U.S. history.

Children and young teenagers are, in many cases, the grandchildren of the older Baby Boomers or of the men and women who were very young at the time of the Korean War — people who are or will be in most need of the social safety nets provided by the government. The gulf between the needs of the aged and children highlights the pressure on young and middle aged adults to provide the tax revenue to support these dependent demographic groups. Unemployment among people between 18 and 24 tends to be high compared to the national average, so the tax burden to cover services rests with an even smaller percentage of the American population.

Another result of a drop in the percentage of the population that is under 15 is that this group will offer only modest competition to Americans who are 50 and older for jobs in a decade. A Nielsen survey done earlier this year showed that 22 percent of Americans and Canadians expect to work past the age of 70. A more recent Gallup poll reported that “More Americans are worried about not having enough money for retirement (66 percent) than are worried about seven other financial matters.” The lower the number of people who are younger than 15 now, the easier it should be for the aged to find jobs. It may be that 70 is the new 50. This may not be true physically, but psychologically it is. The large Pew research study on aging done two years ago reported that 62 percent of Americans do not think they are old until they are 75. Twenty-seven percent put that age at 85.

Some noteworthy information from the Census data used as the backbone of the study is that the percentage of the population in the U.S. that is under 15 has dropped about 6 percent in the period from 2001 to 2009, the year for which the last complete census is available. In Alaska, the state with the largest drop, the fall off was over 15 percent. Median age across the country rose slightly, as should be expected if the youngest part of the population has dropped a modest amount.

Some states are experiencing particularly sharp drops in the percent of the population under 15. Experts maintain this is attributable to the decline in local economies. William Frey, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a demography expert, observed that most states have increasingly high numbers of older residents. “This is because many states in the middle of the country have experienced a long term economic slide — losing young adult migrants, and not attracting many immigrants.”

Economies with low numbers of children also face further economic burdens. ”States losing young people will be stuck with older people who will be in need of health and medical services while their labor force growth tapers off,” Frey says. “The challenge will be to balance the needs of younger people in places where they are growing with those of baby boomers and seniors who will be aging everywhere.”

According to Frey, the consequences go beyond economics. “In the longer term, the country may be ‘splitting apart’ between a more youthful, racially diverse set of Sunbelt states, and a more stagnant, aging set of northern and Midwest states- a division which will impact the politics and economies of each.”

24/7 Wall St. has reviewed information on the ten states that had the largest drop in the percent of their population who were under 15 between 2001 and 2009. Two characteristics were dominant in the statistics. The first is that many of those are states which have been financially troubled like New York, California, Louisiana, and Rhode Island. It is an educated guess, but families may want to move to regions that hold more economic promise for their children. The second is that Alaska and Hawaii are both on the list. This is unexpected. The economic opportunity in those states should be good. Both states, however, are relatively expensive places to live, and the economic downturn may make them less attractive places to raise children. One piece of data not provided by the Census is probably also critical. The Child Trends Center at The University of Albany said in a 2007 study that immigrant children account for 20 percent of all children in the U.S., and that their numbers are growing faster than any other group of children in the nation. States 24/7 Wall St. picked for this list, which includes Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Michigan, are not a large part of this trend.

States are ranked by the change in the portion of their populations that are under 15 years old.

10. South Carolina
Relative Decrease In Population Under 15 (2001-2009): -9.86 percent
Percentage of the Population Under 15 in 2001: 21.83 percent
Percentage of the Population Under 15 in 2009: 19.68 percent
Actual Decrease In Population Under 15 (2001-2009): -2.15 percent
Median Age 2001: 36.1
Median Age 2009: 39.2

In South Carolina — another state which has relied heavily on manufacturing and agriculture — the unemployment has been perennially high and was recently near 13 percent. GDP per capita in South Carolina is low compared to most other states. In short, the state is not a promising environment for employment or the creation of a larger middle class.

9. Virginia
Relative Decrease>In Population Under 15 (2001-2009): -10.02 percent
Percentage of the Population Under 15 in 2001: 21.66 percent
Percentage of the Population Under 15 in 2009: 19.49 percent
Actual Decrease In Population Under 15 (2001-2009): -2.17 percent
Median Age 2001: 36.1
Median Age 2009: 38.4

Virginia would have to be labeled an outlier on this list. There are many reasons that young families would want to live in the state. It has a very high concentration of high technology workers. Unemployment has generally stayed below 6 percent. Forbes has named it as one of the best states for business. School test scores are usually well above the national average. The only thing about the state that is not “family friendly” is that taxes are extremely high compared to most other states.

8. New Hampshire
Relative Decrease In Population Under 15 (2001-2009):-10.14 percent
Percentage of the Population Under 15 in 2001: 19.68 percent
Percentage of the Population Under 15 in 2009: 17.69 percent
Actual Decrease In Population Under 15 (2001-2009): -2 percent
Median Age 2001: 38.1
Median Age 2009: 41.2

New Hampshire’s total population rose very little in the last decade, only 6.5 percent. The state’s economy relies heavily on farming and manufacturing, neither of which are industries with promising growth. The state has the lowest birthrate in the country based on Census data taken in 2006.

7. New York
Relative Decrease In Population Under 15 (2001-2009): -10.7 percent
Percentage of the Population Under 15 in 2001: 20.8 percent
Percentage of the Population Under 15 in 2009: 18.58 percent
Actual Decrease In Population Under 15 (2001-2009): -2.23 percent
Median Age 2001: 36.3
Median Age 2009: 39.6

New York has two fairly obvious reasons that might cause a drop in the portion of its population that is under 15. The cost to raise children in New York City has to be among the highest in the nation. Other cities where many of the state’s residents live have bled jobs for a generation, particularly Buffalo, Albany, Syracuse and Rochester. Agriculture is among the largest employment sectors in the state. New York has one of the lowest population growth rates among all states over the last decade, 2.1 percent.

6. Louisiana
Relative Decrease In Population Under 15 (2001-2009): -11.13 percent
Percentage of the Population Under 15 in 2001: 23.4 percent
Percentage of the Population Under 15 in 2009: 20.79 percent
Actual Decrease In Population Under 15 (2001-2009): -2.6 percent
Median Age 2001: 34.1
Median Age 2009: 37.3

Katrina is the cause for most large population shifts in Louisiana, particularly since 2005. It is notable that the median age of the population rose very sharply over the period of the 24/7 analysis. The total population rose by only 1.4 percent between the 2000 and 2010 census. The diaspora, which began after the hurricane, does not seem to have been followed by a return of children in large numbers. Schools and school systems were entirely destroyed by the storm. Basic government services and housing were wiped out in areas in the southern part of the state.

5. Hawaii
Relative Decrease In Population Under 15 (2001-2009): -12.32 percent
Percentage of the Population Under 15 in 2001: 21.36 percent
Percentage of the Population Under 15 in 2009: 18.72 percent
Actual Decrease In Population Under 15 (2001-2009): -2.63 percent
Median Age 2001: 36.7
Median Age 2009: 39.8

Hawaii is a major home to older adults, which may be a reason that the portion of its population that is very young has dropped. The media age in Hawaii is 79.8, the highest among all states. The greatest pressure on young families may be taxes. State taxes per capita were $2,838 when measured in 2006, the highest of any state. Living costs are also relatively high because most goods have to be imported from the mainland U.S. or elsewhere.

4. Rhode Island
Relative Decrease In Population Under 15 (2001-2009): -12.68 percent
Percentage of the Population Under 15 in 2001: 20.11 percent
Percentage of the Population Under 15 in 2009: 17.56 percent
Actual Decrease In Population Under 15 (2001-2009): -2.55 percent
Median Age 2001: 37.5
Median Age 2009: 41

Rhode Island as a state is poor and getting poorer. Its old industrial manufacturing base has all but disappeared and has not been replaced by any other industry or industries. Tourism was a major part of the state’s GDP, but that has been hurt by the economic downturn. Real estate prices in the state have dropped sharply because of unemployment and low population growth. One sign that it is not considered an attractive place to live is that its population rose only 0.4 percent in the decade that ended in 2010.

3. California
Relative Decrease In Population Under 15 (2001-2009): -12.68 percent
Percentage of the Population Under 15 in 2001: 24.25 percent
Percentage of the Population Under 15 in 2009: 21.18 percent
Actual Decrease In Population Under 15 (2001-2009): -3.08 percent
Median Age 2001: 33.0
Median Age 2009: 36.1

California may have the largest economy among American states with a GDP of $1.8 trillion, but it is also one of the most troubled. The state’s unemployment rate has been high since mid-decade as construction jobs evaporated, followed by state and municipal positions. A number of cities in the state still have unemployment over 10 percent and in some it is higher than 15 percent. Several of the state’s largest industries, which include utilities, government services, education and health services, are unlikely to grow in the foreseeable future.

2. Maryland
Relative Decrease In Population Under 15 (2001-2009): -12.91 percent
Percentage of the Population Under 15 in 2001: 22.42 percent
Percentage of the Population Under 15 in 2009: 19.52 percent
Actual Decrease In Population Under 15 (2001-2009): -2.89 percent
Median Age 2001: 36.2
Median Age 2009: 39.2

Maryland is an anomaly on the list, much like its neighbor, Virginia. Employment opportunities, particularly for high paid jobs, are strong. The state has a large presence of government and technology work. The only real weakness in the employment base may be the farm sector in the southern part of the state. Income taxes in Virginia are extremely high, which may have the effect of pushing lower income families out of the region.

1. Alaska
Relative Decrease In Population Under 15 (2001-2009): -15.36 percent
Percentage of the Population Under 15 in 2001: 25.7 percent
Percentage of the Population Under 15 in 2009: 21.75 percent
Actual Decrease In Population Under 15 (2001-2009): -3.95 percent
Median Age 2001: 32.6
Median Age 2009: 33.3

It would be easy to suppose that people want to leave Alaska because of the weather, but the state’s population is higher by 13.3 percent in the last decade. Clearly a very large portion of that increase is among adults. The reason for that is simple. The state’s large energy industry still draws people who want relatively well-paid jobs, even if those jobs are in a remote area with an often hostile climate. The cost of living, however, has remained extremely high. Neither the environment nor the costs of daily life makes it an attractive place to raise children.

More from 24/7 Wall St.:

Cost of Murdoch's dropped bid? 33 billion pounds

Demand for crude oil to rise again in 2012

BSkyB: How soon will Murdoch be back?

Copyright © 2012 24/7 Wall St. Republished with permission.

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