In California, immigrants are past their prime
By Andy Goldberg
Deutsche Presse Agentur, April 7, 2010
Los Angeles (DPA) — Driven by recession and demographic trends, immigration in California has peaked, and native-born Californians now outnumber people from other US states and around the world for the first time in centuries, according to a study this month.
Transplants have outnumbered native Californians ever since the 1849 gold rush. Until now.
Ironically, the decline of migrants comes as Austrian-born action movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger – perhaps California's most famous immigrant – finishes his stint as governor.
The historic turnaround reflects the fact that fewer people are moving to California because of the weak economy. At the same time, many of those who migrated in recent decades to America's Golden State in the past have now gone back to their native lands or moved elsewhere.
Increased immigration enforcement has also played an important role, said the report's author, Dowell Myers, professor of urban planning and demography at the University of Southern California (USC).
The report contradicts widely held perceptions of an unrelenting tide of immigrants making their way into California from across the border in Mexico.
It even surprised Myers.
'We thought that the number of foreign-born residents in the state would rise to about 30 per cent before leveling off around 2020,' Myers told the German Press Agency dpa. 'Instead, we have reached the tipping point this year, with the percentage of foreign-born residents peaking at 26 per cent.'
That contrasts dramatically with the situation in 1980 when not a single county in Southern California had a homegrown majority. Now, only the immigration mecca of Los Angeles County falls into that category, but it, too, is expected to become majority home grown when figures from the ongoing 2010 census are collated.
The USC study follows a report by the US Department of Homeland Security that said the number of illegal immigrants living in the United States had dropped from 11.6 million in 2008 to 10.8 million last year.
California has built itself into the world's sixth-largest economy largely by dint of the extraordinary successes forged by many of its newcomers. But Myers is convinced that the growing dominance of native-born Californians will be a boon to the state, quelling historic tensions over immigration and funding for government services like education.
Because native-born Californians are three times more likely to stay in the state than their migrant counterparts, California's population will remain stable – giving the state ready-made replacements in the labour pool when the baby-boomers retire.
That population will be better educated, as history shows that children of Latino immigrants complete more years of schooling, speak better English and earn more income than their parents.
Myers sees California's population dynamics as an example of 'what is inexorably happening all over the first world.'
'In terms of the central dynamic, it is the older generation versus the new generation,' he explains.
Old-timers generally frown on giving their tax dollars to newcomers, and believe they are taking jobs away from the native population. But Myers says his study should convince people that such positions are self-defeating.
'The growing California home grown majority represents the future of the state, no matter what their parents' origins,' Myers says. 'There's a partnership there, even though there is no ethnic or cultural ties.'
EDITORS NOTE: The USC study is available online at: http://www.usc.edu/schools/sppd/research/popdynamics/pdf/Myers_Pitkin_PlaceofBirthReport_033110.pdf