California Now The Least Educated State

California Now the Least-Educated State
Report Examines How Immigration Has Changed the Golden State

Center for Immigration Studies
Washington, D.C.
June 10, 2010
Contact: Steven Camarota, 202 466 8185,

In 1970, nine percent of Californias population was comprised of immigrants; by 2008 it was 27 percent. A new report from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) finds that as a result of immigration, California now has the least-educated labor force of any state. Historically, California was not a state with a disproportionately large unskilled population, like Appalachia or parts of the South. However, immigration has transformed the state. Absent a change in immigration policy, other parts of the country may be transformed in a similar fashion.

The report, 'A State Transformed: Immigration and the New California,' is authored by Steven A. Camarota and Karen Jensenius. Among the findings:

* In 1970 California had the 7th most educated work force of the 50 states in terms of the share of its workers who had completed high school. By 2008, it ranked 50th, making it the least-educated state. One in six workers in the state has not graduated high school.

* The decline in education in California is large relative to other states. The percentage of Californians who have completed high school has increased since 1970; however, all other states made much more progress in improving education levels. As a result, California has fallen behind the rest of the country.

* The large relative decline in education in California is a direct result of immigration. Without immigrants, the share of Californias labor force that has completed high school would be above the national average.

* There is no indication that California will soon close the educational gap. California ranks 35th in terms of the share of its 19-year-olds who have completed high school. Moreover, one-third of the adult immigrants who settled in the state in 2007 and 2008 had not completed high school, adding 91,000 new unskilled adults to the state.

* In 1970, California was right at the national average in terms of income inequality, ranking 25th in the nation. By 2008, it was the 6th most unequal state in the country based on the commonly used Gini coefficient, which measures how evenly income is distributed.

* Californias income distribution in 2008 was more unequal than was Mississippis in 1970.

* While historical data on welfare are not available, we can say that in 2008 California ranked 11th highest in terms of the share of its households accessing at least one major welfare program and 8th highest in terms of the share of the states population without health insurance.

* The large share of Californias adults who have very little education is likely to strain social services and make it challenging for the state to generate sufficient tax revenue to cover the demands for services made by its large unskilled population.

Discussion. California is home to the high-tech and entertainment industries, has one of the nations largest tourism industries, and has the most productive agricultural land in the country. Historically, it was not a state with a disproportionately large unskilled population, unlike Appalachia, parts of the American South, or the Rio Grande valley. Relative to other states, it had one of the more educated labor forces in terms of the share of workers who had completed high school. But today it is the state with the largest share of its labor force that has not completed high school.

Analysis of Census Bureau data through 2008 by the Center for Immigration Studies shows this relative change is a direct result of immigration. California has become a state with one of the most skewed income distributions and it is among the states with high rates of welfare use and lack of health insurance. Immigrants in the state are six times more likely than natives not to have completed high school. While some employers argue that a continuing stream of unskilled immigrant workers is desirable, such a policy has consequences. Productivity, standard of living, welfare use, health insurance coverage, and the tax base are heavily impacted by education levels. The low level of educational attainment in the state is likely to create significant challenges for California in the foreseeable future.

# # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # #

The Center for Immigration Studies is an independent research institution that examines the impact of immigration on the United States.