Welcome to California 2050, almost twice as crowded and dramatically different in racial balance.
Population will have nearly doubled to 59.5 million, according to the state Department of Finance. Hispanics will be 52 percent of the state populace, after becoming the absolute majority eight years earlier. Only one-third of Californians will be white, dropping from the current 43 percent. Asians will increase one point to 13 percent while blacks decline one point to 5 percent.
Distant exurbs will show the biggest growth. Riverside County, east of No. 1 Los Angeles, will overtake Orange and San Diego counties as the second most populated, with 4.7 million residents. Five Central Valley counties will gain the biggest population percentage increases. Sutter County’s population will lead with more than 200 percent growth, to 283,000.
California in 50 years will be a much different state than it is today. Intelligent preparations for coping with these unprecedented changes need to start right now, if our state is to remain at the global forefront of economic prosperity and good living. Difficult choices lie ahead.
More people living in the state means more demand for everything, from finite resources such as water and land, to costly options such as schools, highways and transit. And Californians are unlikely to embrace any expansions that interfere with state lifestyle priorities such as clean air and beaches, open space, single family homes, smooth commutes and localized government decision making.
Possibly the most challenging shift California must make during the coming decades will be to finally improve school abilities to give the emerging Hispanic majority plus other lower-income and non-native English-speaking students the 21st-century education necessary for replacing skilled white baby boomers who will be gone from the work force by 2050.
This is no simple issue. It touches on numerous hot-button controversies including illegal immigration, bilingual education, affirmative action and the state capital’s spending priorities in perennially cash-short budgetary cycles.
Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles, outlined the underlying issue well in a written statement. “If we don’t work now to end immigrant bashing and the politics of division, we will allow wedges to form that can pull apart a society whose sheer size alone will require enormous tolerance and cooperation to function,” he said.
For some time to come, it will remain an open question as to whether the California state government can adapt sufficiently to overcome the coming unprecedented challenges. Unknown socio-economic consequences of a seemingly inexorable population doubling may require creation of powerful new multiregional agencies, which is not a development most Californians would easily embrace.
If the Golden State is to retain its unequaled combination of personal opportunity and enviable lifestyle, the public and our leaders must act with bolder vision than ever before.