The number of Latinos will match the number of white non-Hispanic population for the first time in California this month, according to the California Department of Finance. The same study also found that Latinos will become a plurality in 2014, overtaking the white non-Hispanic population. The demographic milestone, marked by a press conference at the state Capitol at noon PDT on Monday, will likely be a driving force for the state’s economic and political future.
The demographic landscape was not always a game of catch up. Fifteen year ago, the white non-Hispanic population outnumbered Latinos by about five million. Over the years, the Latino population increased through birth and immigration while the white population decreased through lower birth rates and people moving out of the state. Now, Latinos will reach a population of 15 million individuals, equivalent to the existing 15 million white non-Hispanics.
Although the Latino population has reached parity with the white non-Hispanic population, Latinos lag on income compared to their white cohorts. The median household income for Latinos was $44,300 in 2011 while the same measure for white non-Hispanics was $67,000. Latinos make up about 60 percent of low-wage laborers in California. Still, the community is changing rapidly. Second-generation Latinos tend to experience greater upward mobility and to earn higher incomes. Meanwhile, immigrant youths are steadily closing the educational achievement gap.
California’s fast-growing Latino population will have a lasting impact on the labor force, since there will be 7.2 million Latinos under the age of 25 compared to 3.8 million whites by 2030. Latinos are currently the fastest growing segment of business owners in California. The changing labor landscape underscores the importance of educating Latino youths who constitute more than half of the state’s secondary schools, and will be needed to supplant the aging white non-Hispanic population.
The growing Latino population will also shape future voter turnout. The growing electoral power of Latinos already flexed its political muscle in the 2012 presidential election, when former presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R) only received 27 percent of the Latino vote.
One only needs to look at Texas to see how the Latino plurality in California could affect a large segment of future minority voters. In response to new Hispanic pluralities in the state’s urban counties, the Legislature limited Latino voting strength by redistricting maps that discriminate against Latino and minority voters.
California’s sizable immigrant population has endured exploitation and threats of deportation. But legislators have introduced bills that help the immigrant population improve their circumstances. For example, the state has already taken steps to mitigate exploitations of immigrant agricultural workers and to bring them into the healthcare system. Several other bills advanced this session to protect immigrants from extortion and help them obtain drivers licenses.