Nation, World + Society

UCLA report examines growing equality and race gap between Southern California regions

Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles finds divide widest between coastal and inland areas

California state flag in tatters

The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA has released a new report examining the profound demographic transformation of the Southern California region. Researchers found a geographic divide between the coastal and inland portions of the region, with increasingly divergent fortunes accentuated by the economic shock of the Great Recession.

The report “Vast Changes and an Uneasy Future: Racial and Regional Inequality in Southern California” focuses on the Southern California region, one of the largest areas of continuous urbanization in the world, stretching from the northern suburbs of Los Angeles County, down through large and rapidly growing communities in Orange County and San Diego, and across the northern frontier of Mexico.

The study reveals the depth and scope of the demographic shifts within our social and urban landscapes, due to international immigration, changes in birth rates and internal migration patterns.

The two Inland Empire counties of Riverside and San Bernardino, according to the report, have undergone the most dramatic demographic changes. Most notably in the last 40 years, Riverside County’s African-American population increased by almost 600 percent. The report also documents an intensifying generational gap in racial composition between an older non-Hispanic white population and a young minority population.

The report notes that, while there were similar numbers of Hispanic and white children (ages 0-14) in 1990 across Southern California, by 2010 there were more than 1.3 million more Hispanic children, a 51.5% increase.

The growth in population of young people, which the region has counted on for many years to feed its economic engine, appears to be subsiding, as birth rates across the region, and including Mexico, continue to decline. Mexican immigration to the United States — the largest in history from a single country — has come to a near standstill.

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s ongoing American Community Survey, the report reveals that from a peak in 2003, the number of children in Southern California had declined by an estimated 275,000 by 2010. Meanwhile, the region’s Latino youth population far outnumbers any other racial/ethnic group, and this demographic feature is at the forefront of the region’s continual transformation.

“Based on age structure and fertility rates, the region’s diversity is going to keep accelerating,” said graduate student researcher Kfir Mordechay, who wrote the report. “An equally important factor is the coming wave of retirements, mainly by white boomers, that will fuel a need for first- and second-generation immigrants to help take their place in the workforce.”

If the state is to become a key player in the future of the global economy, the report stated, California needs to make sure its immigrant population has the skills necessary to compete in an increasingly global economy.

Among the major highlights in this report:

• While 47.8 percent of the total population over 40 years of age is white in urbanized Southern California, 30.2 percent of the total is Hispanic. By contrast, 25.8 percent of the total population under 40 is white while 48 percent is Hispanic.

• Since 1970 there has been a decrease of more than 2 million white residents in Los Angeles County.

• Between 2000 and 2010, Orange County’s white toddler population (ages 0-5) declined from 36.5 percent to 28.1 percent of the total toddler population. During the same period, the Inland Empire counties of Riverside and San Bernardino saw their white toddler population decrease by 28 percent.

• Since the beginning of the recession in 2008, Los Angeles County’s legal migration has declined more than 10 percent. Sharper declines occurred in Riverside (more than 18 percent) and San Bernardino (more than 13 percent).

“The hope is that this report will be instrumental in focusing attention on the remedies and leadership needed to meet the challenges of our evolving society," said Mordechay, "so that all groups can benefit from the opportunities available within our communities.”

This study is part of a multidimensional analysis by the Civil Rights Project and examines the Southern California region’s profound inequalities; the divisions that exist along racial, ethnic, linguistic and social class lines; and the steps necessary to equalize opportunity.

Civil Rights Project Co-Director Gary Orfield commented, “We are all connected in a vast web of freeways, commerce and media, but we don’t have adequate policies or even serious discussions about how we include the new majority in the region’s opportunities. Either we expand our vision or we passively accept the shrinkage of our common future.”

The project’s initial studies on Southern California’s mega-region looked at educational and economic opportunities across the region. Future research will examine housing opportunity, health care inequalities, and educational opportunities.

To read “Vast Changes and an Uneasy Future,” click here.

This story was adapted from Ampersand, a publication of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

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