Study: Calif. Natives Outnumber Others In State
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Native Californians are once again taking over their state, at least demographically speaking. A new study out from the University of Southern California, finds that for the first time since the mid-19th century, people born in California outnumber those born elsewhere.
In the last century and a half there have been reasons to move to California, starting with the Gold Rush, of course. There were railroad workers from China, families escaping the Dust Bowl. Recently the state has also become a magnate for Mexican farm workers, Silicon Valley techies, and Americans everywhere looking for a bit of sunshine and a bit of fame.
Dowell Myers is a professor at the USC School of Policy Planning and Development. He conducted that demographic study and joins me now. Welcome to the program.
Professor DOWELL MYERS (Policy Planning and Development, University of Southern California): Well, thank you.
NORRIS: So what happened to the idea of California dreaming? I guess more native Californians have taken that call than those who hail from elsewhere.
Professor MYERS: It's been an exciting change in California. We're the destination for migrations from across the country and across the globe. But in the last couple of decades thats slowed down dramatically.
What's ironic, a lot of it was attributable to Governor Reagan and when he became president, he was taking on the Russian in a Cold War and trying to outspend them and drive them into defeat, which he was successful in. And a lot of that spending happened in California in aerospace. But after the war was won and the Cold War had ended, aerospace crashed and took down the economy, too, in Southern California.
We lost 330,000 jobs for a while there. And in that environment, the immigrants who had been coming to Southern California decided to try their luck elsewhere. And once they discovered there were good jobs and much cheaper housing all across America, theyve spread out since then.
NORRIS: Talk to me about the implications for all this, and let's begin with the political implications.
Professor MYERS: Well, the interesting thing is that California's politics have been really anti-growth since the '70s. We've been sending off migrants because we had too much congestion already, we didnt need anymore people. The fear was that migrants were causing all these problems. When I say migrants I mean people who are coming from Indiana or Texas, as well as Mexico and Taiwan.
Well, thats really changed quite a bit now. The growth is not coming from migration. It's our own children being born here, many of whom are the children of immigrants. But they're also the children of baby boomers like myself, whose kids are now pushing into their early 20's. And that really is a homegrown generation thats really rooted in California and is replacing these migrant workers in the workforce.
And now, we are really dependent on our homegrown children, homegrown workforce who we have to educate ourselves. And thats a new game in California. We're not used to really growing our own.
NORRIS: So that will have a lot of impact on the school systems, beginning, I guess, at the elementary level all the way through the college and university systems.
Professor MYERS: Well, the timing is difficult because California's fiscal crisis. We're perpetually in the hole by about $20 billion. We have to cut somewhere and education can amount to roughly half the budget. And so it's being cut but it's our investment in the future workforce. It's our investment in growing the new middle class generation of Californians. And we're going to have to figure out to do this somehow.
NORRIS: What affect will this have on the state's economy?
Professor MYERS: Well, it's very positive in the long-run, because as baby boomers retire there's going to be a shortage of workers across the country. The first baby boomer crosses age 65 next year, 2011. So here it comes.
California's population is a little bit younger, so we have more people in the pipeline at younger ages ready to come on board. And thats a real resource for us if we can get them trained up.
MONTAGNE: California has always had a certain dynamism because people were moving there. And a lot of those people were moving there because they were seeking something and they tended to be fairly young. What does this mean with this homegrown population thats going to stay and age? What does this mean for the tone of the state, for the zeitgeist, for the identity of California?
Professor MYERS: Well, you know, it used to be a young people's nation back when the baby boomers were young. But baby boomers are now graying. And as they gray, the nation grays. So the whole nation is getting more fuddy-duddy. It's not just California.
And I think California can resist that tide a little bit better but everybody is moving in the same direction. We're all getting more sedentary. And I think any young person today is much more precious than they were before because they're more rare. And we sure want to help them achieve their maximum potential.
It is a little alarming that the economy might not be as experimental and innovative because there's fewer young people. And I think every state is going to be looking to try to capture as many of the young people as they can, so they can keep the sparks alive in their local economy.
NORRIS: Well, Professor Myers, it's been good to talk to you. Thank you very much.
Professor MYERS: Well, thank you. I enjoyed it.
NORRIS: Dowell Myers is a professor at the USC School of Policy Planning and Development.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.