How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

California's shifting population: Latino plurality is taking a little bit longer

Eric Fischer

A race and ethnicity map of the Los Angeles area by artist Eric Fischer, based on the 2010 census. Red dots stand for white, blue for black, green for Asian, orange for Latino and yellow for "other." Latinos were to have surpassed the number of non-Latino whites in the state by last summer, but the shift is taking longer. The tipping point is now supposed to occur by March.

Sometime last summer, the state's Latino population was supposed to have surpassed that of non-Latino whites. But it hasn't happened yet.

The proposed California state budget released recently contained a target date by when Latinos are supposed to become the state's biggest ethnic group. This time, it's March.

"Births were a little bit lower than we had anticipated last year," said Bill Schooling, a demographer with the state finance department, which makes the calculations. But, he added, "It's a relatively small delay when we are talking about a 15 million population."

Both groups - Latinos and non-Latino whites - are roughly the same size at the moment, with both accounting for roughly 39 percent of the state's population. By March, it's expected that Latinos will edge out non-Latino whites by a hair to become a solid 39 percent, while the latter population drops to about 38.8 percent.

This doesn't mean that Latinos will become a majority in California. That's a long way off: A previous state projection puts Latinos at 48 percent of the state's population in 2060.

But when the tipping point is reached this year, Latinos will become the plurality, meaning the single largest demographic group in the state, as the proportion of other groups declines. The exception will be Asian Americans, who represent just 13 percent of the population but whose ranks are expected to grow, mostly due to immigration.

Schooling said the non-Latino white population may rise and fall a bit in the coming years as "Echo Boomers" born in the 1980s and early 1990s have children. But this won't be enough to tip the scales in reverse as non-white Baby Boomers age while the younger Latino population continues to grow, mostly due to native births.

At the same time, California's Latinos aren't really having that many kids. State demographers put their fertility rate at about 2.17 children, less than the 2.2 estimated last year, which means births won't be enough to counter another major population shift as Californians in general grow older. According to the projections in the budget, the over-65 population is expected to jump by more than 20 percent in the next five years.

While there may be a slight bump among preschoolers - 3 percent - growth among children through high school age is expected to be fairly flat, while the 18-24 population will drop by 4.5 percent in the next five years. As for the working‐age population (people 25 to 64), it will only grow by about 4.3 percent - and this, state demographers say, will be thanks largely to migration.

See the proposed state budget here.

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