September 8, 2000

New demographics changing everything

Experts examine rise of state's minorities


By Tanya Schevitz, Lori Olszewski, and John Wildemuth
The San Francisco Chronicle, August 31, 2000

Long anticipated, Califor-nia's transformation into a minority-majority state may have arrived with little fanfare, but make no mistake about it — the shift in the demographic landscape is expected to ripple through almost every aspect of life.

Experts, responding to census data showing the rise to dominance of minority groups over non-Latino white Californians, anticipate that the shift will change the state's political makeup, its economic balance, its educational institutions — even people's perceptions of themselves.

"There will be no place in the state that is not touched by immigration and these racial and ethnic changes," said Mark Baldassare, senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California in San Francisco and author of a book on the state's demographic changes, "California in the New Millennium."

"We will be inventing a new kind of society, and we don't really have any urban states to use as a role model. California of the future may look a lot like Los Angeles today."

For the first time since 1860, California's minorities have as a group taken the lead.

Released this week, the new census figures — annual estimates based on births, deaths and net migration for 1990-1999 — show that the percentage of non-Latino whites in the state dropped from 57.1 percent in 1990 to 49.9 percent in 1999. At the same time, the state's Latino population rose from 26 percent to 31.6 percent, and the Asian and Pacific Islander population increased from less than 10 percent to 12 percent.

Other California minorities increased, but not as much as Asians and Latinos. American Indian and Alaska Native populations grew by 9.4 percent, and the African American population increased by 5.1 percent.



While the numbers for Latinos and Asians are startling, the transformation has happened gradually during the past decade. Whites already have been a minority in the state's public school classrooms for more than a decade.

And a bigger minority population is on the way, said Baldassare, with even more dramatic changes ahead. By midcentury, he said, the state's Latino population alone will outnumber whites.

"Immigration will continue to be the dominant growth engine for California," said William Frey of the University of Michigan's Population Research Center. "California is going to be an immigrant state."

It is a fact already reflected by recent voting and registration trends.

According to a study released by the Field Institute in May, the entire 1.1 million increase in registered voters during the past 10 years can be attributed to members of minorities, most of them Latino. The number of non-Latino white voters actually fell by about 100,000, while Latinos added about that same number of voters.

"That has huge implications politically," said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Institute.

In recent years, Latinos have served as lieutenant governor, speaker of the Assembly and head of the state Democratic party. Candidates for statewide office regularly run Spanish-language ads, and the two candidates for governor in 1998 had a live debate on Spanish-language television.



Almost half the state's Latino voters have registered since 1994, when voters passed Proposition 187, designed to punish illegal immigrants. The measure enraged California Latinos and prompted successful campaigns to naturalize more resident aliens and register them to vote.

California and the nation had a look at that growing power in March, when the state's Latinos voted overwhelmingly for Democrat Al Gore in the state's blanket primary. According to exit polls by the Voter News Service, Latino voters accounted for almost all of Gore's 6 percent margin over Texas Gov. George W. Bush in the state primary.

The growing political influence of the state's Latinos has not escaped the notice of other minority groups.

"Asians are looking at the Latinos' move to political power as a model, but there's a long way to go," said David Lee of the Chinese- American Voter Education Committee in San Francisco.

While the number of Asian voters has increased by about 300,000 during the past decade, "that's still nowhere near the population growth," Lee said.

Yet they are beginning to make their influence felt regionally.

"In places like San Francisco, for example, Asians have achieved political mass" and are getting the political power that goes along with that, Lee said.



While minorities have made significant population and political gains, they are not making commensurate economic and educational advances. Particularly vulnerable, experts say, are poor, non-English-speaking Latinos and their children, whose numbers are increasing at the fastest rate.

Without major policy changes that reflect the demographic shift, the state is on a path to disaster, experts say. We could find ourselves with an undereducated, low-paid minority workforce responsible for supporting the glut of aging, white Baby Boomers who soon will be retiring in record numbers.

"We have made these dis-investments, and Latinos get the short end of the stick, and that hurts everybody," said David Hayes-Bautista, director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at UCLA.

But shaping a young, affluent workforce from a largely poor minority pool starts with education, said Audrey Wagman, principal of Oak Grove Middle School in Concord. Schools, she said, must begin as early as possible to deal with the educational needs of a diverse population.

At Oak Grove, 25 languages are spoken, and the makeup of the student body is evenly split between members of minorities and whites.

"Teachers need to be able to teach the children who walk into their classroom," Wagman said. "This is the world we live in. We need to know how to get these kids up to speed in terms of English language development."

Because the needs and challenges California faces increase as more immigrants move into the state, it should not be assumed that a minority-majority will be some sort of burden, said Seema Nayyar, editor of American Demographics in New York.

"Just because you are in one economic group in one decade doesn't mean you will be in the next decade," she said. "As the minority becomes the majority, they will also become the majority in economics, in schools and in colleges as well as in the workplace, and they will begin to have more money."


Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the first Latino to hold statewide office in more than 120 years, concurred. The needs and desires of the growing ranks of minorities, he said, will be no different than most others in the state.

"We need to make sure that hard- working people are in a situation where they can take care of their kids and have something when they get old," he said. "There may be more Sanchezes, but the issues will basically be the same."

The issues might be, but the sights, smells, and flavors will reflect many different cultures. In fact, the landscape is already being transformed all across the state, in traditional white-flight suburbs, as well as urban centers.

In strip malls in Irvine, a traditionally white enclave in Orange County, Asian grocery stores and restaurants are popping up where chain stores used to be, Baldassare said.

"It can be seen in the fact that Mexican food is no longer considered ethnic because of Taco Bell, in the fact that a good majority of teenagers listen to rap and Latin music," Nayyar said. "It will seep through the culture."

This story was provided by the Center for Immigration Studies, 1522 K Street NW, Suite 820, Washington, DC 20005 (202) 466-8185

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