Stockton Record: Calif's Population Growing Changing

April 20, 2014

By: Juan Esparza Loera (Vida en el Valle)

From the moment Portuguese explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo explored the West Coast of North America on behalf of Spain and discovered what is now California in 1542, Latinos have played a prominent role in what eventually became the most populous state in the U.S.

Sometime in March, Latino residents became the plurality population group in the state, according to demographers with the state Department of Finance.

The milestone marks the first time since California joined the union in 1850 that Latinos are the state's largest racial or ethnic group.


1542: Portuguese navigator Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo spots California.

1579: English explorer Francis Drake claims a portion of the California coast.

1602: Sebastian Vizcaíno explores and maps the coast of California.

1769: First Spanish mission at San Diego established. Twenty more missions would be built.

1821: Alta California becomes part of Mexico.

1848: California cedes to the U.S. following the Mexican-American War. Gold discovered at Sutter's Mill.

1850: California becomes the country's 31st state.

1940: Latinos account for 6 percent of the state's population of 6.9 million.

1964: California becomes the U.S.'s most populous state.

March 2014: Latinos become the largest population group in California.

It could have occurred with the birth of a baby named María in Merced or the arrival in Stockton of the Rodríguez family from Michoacan, Mexico, without proper documentation.

However it happened, the 14 million Latino residents now become the largest population group in the state at 39 percent. Non-Latino whites account for 38.8 percent of the population.

California joins New Mexico as the only states where non-Latino whites are now the majority.

Less than 25 years ago, California's white population was 57.4 percent, while Latinos accounted for 25.4 percent.

The rapid Latino increase has been fueled by immigrants and high birthrates, according to demographers.

This is only the latest milestone for Latinos, who already account for the majority of enrollment in kindergarten and some of the early grades in public schools.

The milestone did not happen overnight. The 2000 census showed two counties - Imperial and Tulare - with Latino majorities. Ten years later, they were joined by Fresno, Kings, Merced, Madera, and Monterey counties. Latinos were already a plurality - the single-largest ethnic group - in San Joaquin County in 2010, according to that year's census.

By 2030, there will be another three counties - including massive Los Angeles - with Latino majorities, according to demographers.

The demographic impact will touch all areas, from education to politics to health to the economy to immigration.

For example, the California Civic Engagement Project at the University of California, Davis, estimates that the San Joaquin Valley will represent the largest percentage increase of voters by 2040.

If eligible Latinos turn out to vote at the same rate at whites, they would account for more than half of the votes in Fresno, Kern, Merced and Tulare counties.

That is a big "if."

While Latinos have driven the increase in Spanish-language television, radio stations and publications, they still are not going to college at increasing rates.

Latinos are usually younger than the members of other ethnic groups in the state, but they also account for the highest teen pregnancy rates.

There has been a surge of Latinos in Los Angeles - they account for 40 percent of the city's population - and other metropolitan areas, and they have also accounted for the largest share of state prisoners since 1992.

"Demographic changes that are coming will reshape the electorate, and in turn, that will likely have impacts on policies and issues that decision-makers focus on in the coming decades," said Mindy Romero, director at the UC Davis project.

Obviously, having a plurality in population means that Latinos will have an impact in areas ranging from the state budget, to housing, to culture, to governance, to the environment and beyond.

That is one of the reasons state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, asked for a report on key demographic, employment and social data concerning the Latino community. "A Statistical Picture of Latinos in California," a 99-page report, was released at the end of January.

"This report confirms what we already suspected," said Lara, chairman of the Latino Legislative Caucus.

"While Latinos have taken great strides in California, there is still much work left to do to help improve the quality of life for the state's fastest-growing population," he said.

"We have a shared responsibility to pursue an agenda that will improve access to jobs, education and quality health care. Improved economic prosperity and access to opportunity not only helps California's growing Latino population, it helps the state as a whole," Lara said.

Among the findings of the study by the California Senate Office of Research:

» Latinos will make up nearly half of all Californians by 2050.

» Latinos tend to earn less as a whole and are underrepresented in higher-income brackets.

» Latino poverty rates are higher than that of the general population, and Latinos receive public assistance at slightly higher rates.

» There is a substantial achievement gap for Latinos in the K-12 public school system.

» Latinos are less likely than the state's general population to own a home.

» Latinos tend to be younger than the general population, but this gap will close over the next few decades.


Contact the Reporter: Juan Esparza Loera /