California’s Demographic Revolution

Heather MacDonald, Daily Press, March 21, 2012

California is in the middle of a far-reaching demographic shift: Hispanics, who already constitute a majority of the state’s schoolchildren, will be a majority of its workforce and of its population in a few decades.

This is an even more momentous development than it seems. Unless Hispanics’ upward mobility improves, the state risks becoming more polarized economically and more reliant on a large government safety net. And as California goes, so goes the nation, whose own Hispanic population shift is just a generation or two behind.

The scale and speed of the Golden State’s ethnic transformation are unprecedented. In the 1960s, Los Angeles was the most Anglo-Saxon of the nation’s 10 largest cities. Today, Latinos make up nearly half of the county’s residents and one-third of its voting-age population. A full 55 percent of Los Angeles County’s child population has immigrant parents. California’s schools have the nation’s largest concentration of “English learners,” students from homes where a language other than English is regularly spoken.

From 2000 to 2010, the state’s Hispanic population grew 28 percent, to reach 37.6 percent of all residents, almost equal to the shrinking white population’s 40 percent. Nearly half of all California births today are Hispanic. The signs of the change are everywhere—from the commercial strips throughout the state catering to Spanish-speaking customers, to the flea markets and illegal vendors in such areas as MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, to the growing reach of the Spanish-language media.

{snip} But a sizable portion of Mexican, as well as Central American, immigrants, however hardworking, lack the social capital to inoculate their children reliably against America’s contagious underclass culture. The resulting dysfunction is holding them back and may hold California back as well.

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{snip} Nearly 53 percent of all Hispanic births in California are now out of wedlock, and Hispanics have the highest teen birthrate of all ethnic groups. {snip}

The complicated reality of Hispanic family life in California—often straddling the legitimate and the criminal worlds, displaying both a dogged determination to work and poor decision making that interferes with upward mobility—helps explain why the state’s Hispanic population has made only modest progress up the educational ladder. Most parents want their children to flourish, yet they may not grasp the study habits necessary for academic success or may view an eighth-grade education as sufficient for finding work. Julian Rodriguez, a Santa Ana gang detective, recalls a case several years ago in which two parents had taken their 14-year-old daughter out of school to care for their new baby—a classic display of “Old World values,” he says.

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