Dowell Myers

California Has a Hold on Its Own

SPPD research finds the emergence of a “New Homegrown Majority in California.”

by Anna Cearley

Professor Dowell Myers

The image of California as a land of migrants is being shattered by demographic data indicating the emergence of a newer generation of Californians that is homegrown and willing to stay in the state, according to a new study by USC researchers.

The study found that today’s teens and young adults will be the first generation in California history whose majority will be California-born when they assume positions of leadership in middle age.

Lead author Dowell Myers, professor of demography at the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development, considers it a “new narrative for California,” with widespread policy implications regarding education and state funding.

The study is part of an ongoing project through USC’s School of Policy, Planning and Development about the new self-reliance of California on its own people.

Myers authored the study with the contributions of scholars Ricardo Ramirez, professor of political science at USC College, and John Pitkin, a senior research associate at SPPD. The project is funded through the Haynes Foundation in Los Angeles.

The study found rapid changes in the number of residents who are native Californians. The arrival of out-of-staters has slowed substantially since 1990, but the state’s holding power of its grown children has remained steady or increased. Some of the key points of the study:

  • more than 70 percent of the state’s teens and young adults (ages 15-24) were born and raised in California. That number was 53.2 percent in 1990.
  • the percentage of the state’s middle age residents (45-54) who are California natives is much lower — 37.4 percent today.
  • California natives are more likely to remain living in their state in middle age than natives of most other states. Only four other states exceed California’s high native retention rates.

The study used several indicators to measure people’s attachment or “commitment” to California, including the retention of California natives as they grow older and the rate of out-migration by residents who were born in other states and nations. The California-born individuals are much more reluctant to leave the state — only 6 percent over a five-year period (and some will return), compared to 16.5 percent of residents who were born in other states.

The study looked at how the data is reflected among different groups and noted a greater commitment to stay in the state among Latino and Asian/Pacific Islander California natives than among blacks and whites.

According to the data, 82.6 percent of Latinos and 82.5 percent of Asian/Pacific Islanders who were born in California remained in California. In comparison, that figure was 75.7 percent for blacks and 62.1 percent for whites.

“We’ve known for a while that although citizenship is one of the biggest barriers for political integration of Latinos and Asian/Pacific Islanders, most of their growth in the last two decades has been from native births rather than immigration,” Ramirez said. “What is noteworthy about these findings is that those native births and their commitment to California will help transform the state’s electorate and political landscape generally.”

As a sign of financial commitment to the state, the researchers also found data suggesting that California’s younger generation shows stronger support for higher taxes for more public services.

The researchers found that 63.1 percent of residents between the ages of 18-24 and 59.4 percent of residents between the ages of 25-34 said they would prefer higher taxes with more services rather than lower taxes and fewer services. Among all age groups, that figure was 49.4 percent. Even younger conservative voters showed a stronger support for higher taxes than older conservatives: 41 percent of the younger conservatives between the ages of 25-34 were willing to pay to support more services, compared to 19.8 percent between the ages of 45-54.

Myers said the findings indicated that the states’ voters bear special responsibility for cultivating the homegrown generation, in particular by investing more money into education. Since migration is bringing fewer workers to the state, Myers said, it is becoming necessary to educate a much greater share of the state’s workforce.

“The young homegrown population creates a much greater fiscal burden for the state because of the costs of educating this younger generation, but it is a necessary investment that returns great economic benefits when they are adults,” Myers said. “These are the future workers and taxpayers, and they also will be the home buyers who hopefully can pay a good price.”

The researchers concluded that, despite these challenges, the study underscores the potential economic benefits of California’s homegrown population.

“With much deeper roots in the state, the California-born residents are more likely to remain in the state as workers, taxpayers and home buyers after their education,” according to the report. “Accordingly, these are good candidates to repay the public’s educational and social investments made while they were children.”

» Click here to view the full study

Photo by Bill Youngblood