Demographic shifts offer glimpse of state’s future

Demography, it’s been said, is destiny — a society’s age cohorts, genders, ethnicities, income distributions, home ownership, education levels and other characteristics determine its place in the larger scheme of things.

While California’s demographics are always changing, we are now experiencing one of our periodic, destiny-changing evolutions:

– Our population growth has slowed markedly, from about 2½ percent a year during the 1980s to scarcely 1 percent today.

– Traditionally, migration has played a huge role in that growth. Today, it’s a negligible or even negative factor, with slightly more people leaving for other states than are arriving from other nations.

– We still have a relatively high birthrate, with more than a half-million babies born every year, or roughly one a minute. Meanwhile, about half that many Californians die each year, thus generating a net annual population growth of around a quarter-million.

– Three-quarters of those babies are being born to nonwhite mothers, which means there’s a widening generational gap between a fast-aging and shrinking white population and a young and still-growing nonwhite segment.

– As white baby boomers retire in ever-increasing numbers (the oldest are now 65, the youngest 46), they will be seeking more and more age-related services — such as medical care — while schools and workforces will be dominated by younger, nonwhite Californians.

– While Asian-American and white kids are doing relatively well in public education, the data on academic achievement and high school graduation are miserable for Hispanic and black kids, which could mean a looming shortage of trained and trainable labor if and when the recession ends.

– The combination of demographic factors and recession are producing an increasingly stratified society with a predominantly white and Asian overclass, a largely Hispanic and black underclass and a shrinking middle class, as new studies by the Public Policy Institute of California graphically demonstrate.

– Sellers of goods and services — including homes if the current glut of houses is ever absorbed — will be marketed to an expanding nonwhite majority. Overall consumer activity, however, could be depressed by flattening population growth and widening income disparities.

– California has developed cultural, economic and political fault lines, with coastal California and inland California evolving into two distinct societies and with self-segregated housing patterns within those two mega-regions.

That process was very evident when the state’s new independent redistricting commission drew new legislative districts aimed at maintaining “communities of interest.”

Its effect may be a political culture even more parochial and less relevant to the state as a whole.

Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.

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