California’s New Homegrown Majority

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Here’s a link to a recent report from USC researchers on the demographics of California. The headline is that California’s population is becoming more settled and homegrown. Today, more than 70 percent of Californians ages 15 to 24 were born and raised here. In 1990, barely half of that group — 53 percent — were born and raised here.

The report’s authors, including Dowell Myers, write that such figures suggest a new narrative for the stat — the “surprising transformation” of California from a “migration magnet” to a “more self-contained society that depends on its present members.” This new narrative suggests a different approach in policy — the new generation of homegrown Californians wants greater public services and is willing pay more in taxes.

We need more of a debate about this transformation. As a Californian, I’m not sure a more stable, homegrown state population is a welcome development. What makes California special is that it’s always been a destination for people from around the world and around the country — America’s America. Do we want to adapt this transformation that the USC study outlines, or should we attempt to reverse it?

If we want to reverse that, would we need radical changes in policy — perhaps lower taxation, for example — that would make life less comfortable for the homegrown but would make the state a magnet for risk-takers? Can California afford to be the generous society that makes major investments in the homegrown without a commitment to policies that lure outsiders? Or will major investments in public infrastructure help us lure outsiders? Should remaining a magnet for the world remain a priority? If so, what policies will accomplish that? If not, how do we build a more prosperous state that is more self-contained?

These are the kinds of questions raised by this report. And these are the kinds of debates we should be having. But we’re hearing almost nothing about this, even from the folks who are discussing the transformation of the state through a California constitutional convention.

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