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The cloudy crystal ball

November 3, 2007 |  7:44 am


Nov. 3, 1957
Los Angeles

I typed the words "Southern California Research Council" and I could already imagine the snoring. What, no crime? Hear me out.

Its question was an essential one: How many people would be in what they called the metropolitan area (Los Angeles and Orange counties) in 1970?

1957_1103_del_coronado The principles sound easy: Projected birth rate plus projected migration minus the death rate.

But it wasn't so simple. The council had revised its estimated figure of 8 million announced 1955. The new projection was even higher: 9.4 million in the two-county area. (If you want to know if the projections were right skip to here).*

First, the birth rate: As I've noted elsewhere on the blog, the U.S. birth rate declined in the first four decades of the 20th century, otherwise known as the "baby bust." This was countered by the baby boom that began in 1946.

Now the death rate: It was declining because of progress in sanitation and health. More people were reaching "the upper age brackets where females outnumber the males." Sound familiar?

And migration. Robert P. Collier of Occidental College, one of the research study leaders, said: "We did, however, assume there would be a continuation of smog and traffic problems. But we did not look for them to get significantly worse. After all, it is possible that the smog situation, for instance, could get so bad that there would be a general exodus of people. But this isn't probable."

(In case you are wondering, the Southern California Research Council wrote many traffic studies in the 1950s. Anyone who thinks traffic in Los Angeles is a new or even somewhat recent problem is merely ignorant of the region's history).

Was the study right? They nailed it: "The composition of the labor force will change, with women and workers under 25 constituting greater proportions by 1970."

*And the magic number? The projection was 9.4 million, bracketed by 9 million on the low end and 9.8 million at the high end. According to the 1970 U.S. census, Los Angeles County had a population of 7,032,075 and Orange County had 1,420,386 for a total of 8.45 million, ahead of the 1955 estimate but below the 1957 revision.    

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