A comic at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles not long ago tried making a joke about how California should erect signs similar to those at McDonald’s about how many billions of burgers they’ve served.
“California,” he said, “12.1 Hispanics – and still counting. And counting! And counting!”
It was a backhanded compliment about the Latino population in California, particularly that of immigrants, and how it has dramatically changed the face of California in the last 40 years.
“We’re running 15 to 20 years ahead of the nation,” says demographer Dowell Myers, a professor at the University of Southern California. “California has a large population of second-generation children who are now coming of age. The rest of the country doesn’t have that.”
But the rest of the country does reflect what is happening in California
The U.S. Hispanic population has grown from 14.6 million people in 1980 to nearly 52 million, according to the Census Bureau.
“In many respects, California looks like the future of the United States demographically,” says Mark Hugo Lopez, associate director for the Pew Hispanic Center. “Between 2000 and 2010, the nation’s Hispanic population grew by 43 percent. Alone, it counted for half of the nation’s population growth.”
Early in 2014, in fact, the Hispanic population will become the plurality in California for the first time since the Golden State joined the union in 1850.
That radical demographic change is expected to impact politics and public policy in the state and possibly beyond, considering California’s history of influencing trend-setting legislation and cultural shifts in the country.
Who would have thought this in 1970 when Latinos made up only 15.5 percent of California’s population, while whites comprised 74.7 percent?
But by 1990, Hispanics accounted for a fourth of Californians, by 2000 they were almost a third and by 2010 they made up 37.6 percent of the state.
In a new report, California’s Department of Finance says that by 2064 the state will have 25 million Latinos and 15.6 million whites – a far cry different than just 15 years ago when whites outnumbered Hispanics in California by five million.
It is not just immigration, though, that has produced the boom but the high birth rates among Latinos already living in California.
Factor in that while the Latino population was increasing, the report found, the white population decreased through lower birth rates and people moving out of the state.
The Hispanic share of the overall California population is projected to increase to about 41 percent by 2020, when whites will make up less than 37 percent.
By 2060, Hispanics could account for 48 percent of the state’s population, with whites falling below 30 percent.
In 2010, Latinos were already a majority in nine of California’s 58 counties. By 2060, that could grow to 17 counties.
And yet in 1980, the state’s Latino population stood at under 20 percent.
At that time, some skeptics rolled their eyes at Jerry Brown, then in his first incarnation as governor, when he told a state Latino political convention:
“It’s your turn in the sun – and I want to be part of it!”
Asked recently if he recalled that and what he would say today, Brown didn’t hesitate to use his quick wit.
“It’s our turn in the sun,” he said. “And, boy, are we ever getting nice and tan here in California!”