USC Price School of Public Policy

Myers Study on CA Residents

Study Finds Decline in Foreign-born Residents

By Anna Cearley

Dowell Myers SPPD Professor Dowell Myers
Photo by Bill Youngblood

For the first time in half a century, the percentage of foreign-born residents in the state of California is actually declining, according to a recent study in which the lead author was Dowell Myers, a demographics professor at the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development.

Previous forecasts predicted the number of foreign-born residents in California – which was 26.2 percent in 2000 – would rise to as high as 30 percent of the population by 2020. Foreign-born refers to people who are born outside of the United States.

Instead, Myers estimates the California foreign-born population share rose only 1.2 percentage points from its 2000 peak and started to slip downward in 2008. Projections by Myers and his co-author, John Pitkin, a senior researcher at the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development, indicate the foreign-born population in California could fall close to its 2000 level in 2010.

The report, released this month, is titled “The New Place of Birth Profile of Los Angeles and California Residents in 2010.”

Recent surveys show that the number of new immigrant arrivals in California has declined much more sharply than in the nation as a whole, and in Los Angeles County, the annual arrivals have fallen even more. The recent immigrant inflow has fallen to a level 26 percent lower than 30 years ago at the beginning of the great boom in immigration.

Meanwhile, the number of California-born residents is rising. Dubbed by Myers as the “homegrown,” they now are estimated – for the first time in more than a century – to constitute a majority in the state of California and in each of the counties in Southern California.

“The peak and decline of the foreign-born population has occurred earlier than expected, largely due to the sharp declines in new immigrant arrivals that are accompanying the economic downturn,” Myers said. “Meanwhile, the transition to a homegrown majority occurred as early as 2000 in the state as a whole, but was slower to come to Southern California.”

Myers and his team analyzed data from the American Community Survey and the Current Population Survey. They also used their proprietary California Demographic Futures model to provide a detailed population profile for January 2010.

Myers also broke down the data according to counties in Southern California. Under conservative extension of recent trends, for example, the foreign-born share in Los Angeles County was estimated to decline by 1.2 percentage points from 2000 to 2010.

The findings provide a glimpse of current and upcoming demographic trends that are intended to complement the Census 2010 data. The current census asks for age, sex, race and homeowner status, but it doesn’t ask whether a person is born in or outside of California.

The data compiled by Myers also highlights the future impact of California’s “homegrown” majority, which includes the children of both immigrants and longtime Californians.

“In contrast to the decline of the foreign-born California residents, California’s homegrown residents have increased in numbers to where they constitute a majority in the state,” Myers said.

In Southern California, not a single county had a homegrown majority in 1980, but by 2000 the counties of San Bernardino, Riverside and Ventura all had a majority of residents born in California, according to Myers’ findings. In 2010, Myers estimates that all of the counties will have a majority of homegrown residents.

This homegrown group is most likely to be under the age of 30, which indicates a bottom-up push that likely will influence and shape public policy in the future, according to Myers. “Concentrated heavily among our younger people, these are the future workers, tax payers and home buyers we all will depend upon,” he said.

Much of Myers’ work involves identifying key demographic trends that are likely to impact California’s future economic stability, including the need for the state to better integrate these homegrown residents into education and job opportunities.

For a copy of the report, visit