California’s Demographic Revolution
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 ten 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.
The poor Mexican immigrants who have fueled the transformation—84 percent of the state’s Hispanics have Mexican origins—bring an admirable work ethic and a respect for authority too often lacking in America’s native-born population. Many of their children and grandchildren have started thriving businesses and assumed positions of civic and economic leadership. 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.