Well, Gray Davis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown have finally succeeded. The dearth of jobs on their watch has finally solved the illegal immigration problem; illegal immigrants are no longer coming to California; those here are going home. That’s the finding of the Pew Research Center in a just released study: immigration from Mexico, legal and illegal, has dropped to net zero. The report cites several reasons: the weakened job and construction market, heightened border enforcement and the long term decline in Mexico’s birth rates.
From 2005 to 2010 about 1.4 million Mexicans crossed the border, but in that same period 1.4 million Mexican immigrants and their US born children crossed from the US into Mexico. Most of this cross border flow took place in California, and in some heavily Latino school districts this trend is reflected in declining school populations.
The effect on California’s demographics and politics will be enormous. A University of Southern California study projects that California will add only about 3.5 million new residents per decade as growth drops to less than one percent a year. This drop in growth plus Baby Boomer retirements will cause an aging of the population, according to USC the over age 65 population will grow from 11.4 percent in 2010 to 18.6 percent by 2030. An aging population has a lower birth rate – ask the Japanese about that – and this mean the public policy pressure moves from education to services for the elderly. So the refusal of policy makers at both the state and local level to limit public employee pensions even if that means less money for schools.
There is an idea in fashionable liberal circles that continuing Latino and other minority growth rates would transform the California electorate into one more willing to raise taxes and spend more money on schools and public services. But that is not likely to happen. An aging population means an aging electorate, one more resistant to higher taxes and to spending money on education, and more supportive of spending on health care and keeping the streets safe.
With Latino population growth now essentially frozen, it is much easier to tell what political changes are in store for California. Latinos account for 37.6 percent of overall state population, but that segment is concentrated in younger people. Latinos are only 33 percent of the over 18 population; they account for 51 percent of the under 18 population. Anglos on the other hand account for 44 percent of the over 18 population, only 27 percent of the under 18 population.
In actual numbers there are 9.5 million more Latinos in California than there were 30 years ago, and three million fewer Anglos – Anglo birth rates have not kept pace with death rates and movement outside California.
There are two important political ramifications to these numbers.
- The explosive growth in Latino voters may have already happened. Latinos accounted for about 20 percent of the California electorate in 2010, and that percent has risen dramatically since 1994 and Proposition 187, the anti-immigrant measure. It will probably continue rising, but not as rapidly as it has. There are 4.5 million under 18 Latinos; they will reach voting age in the next two decades, and most are citizens and were born here. But that may not be enough to maintain the current levels of growth of the Latino electorate, and that electorate will join the rest of Californians in growing older. As Josh Kraushaar of the Nation Journal wrote recently, “For Democrats, the expected long-term explosion of Latino voters may not end up materializing. While there was a significant spike in the Hispanic population at the first half of the last decade, the economic recession and tighter immigration crackdown have slowed that to a trickle.”
- The second is the passing of immigration as a political issue. Michael Barone of the American Enterprise Institute recently wrote that, ”The illegal immigration problem is going away.” Illegal immigration became a political issue because, as Barone put it, “Mexican immigrants tend to be younger, poorer, less educated and less fluent in English. They are also more likely to be illegal.” With this flow stopped, many observers see the political issue eventually fading away.
But perhaps not before we have one more fling at the issue in 2012. Immigrant bashing, so prevalent in Republican primaries, has been a boon to Democrats in the general election because it spurs higher turnout among new Latino voters. I like to call it the “Steve Cooley Rule.” There was never a poll that showed Cooley, the GOP candidate for California Attorney General, losing in 2010, but he lost. That is because of the “surprise” new Latino voters who showed up on election day but were never figured into the polls.
The statisticians at Romney headquarters seem to have suddenly figured this out, witness the efforts to walk back Romney’s negative attacks on Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich as being “soft on illegals” in the primaries. The Latino turnout will almost certainly be greater than it was in 2008 in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico – and there is no scenario that shows Romney winning if he loses all four of these potential swing states, especially Arizona where the latest polling shows him ahead by just two points.
So Romney may well be doomed by the Latino voter backlash, but he could be the last Republican so harmed. If illegal immigration recedes as a political issue as the illegal population itself recedes, Republicans may figure a way to appeal to the still growing Latino electorate on economic issues. In California at least, that electorate will join the other voters in getting older, more middle class and more economically conservative. If the GOP is to survive in this state, a very big if, they better hope that this happens.