California teachers, politicians and media types like to extoll the benefits of ethnic diversity. Certainly, the state’s racial makeup has changed markedly since 1970, with the white non-Hispanic population now a minority. Some, like state Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, and some education activists now insist that multicultural studies be mandated for the public school curriculum. This is in addition to materials that, as most California parents with kids can tell you, already go out of their way to foster appreciation of different cultures and strongly focus on such issues as slavery, racism and discrimination.

Yet, if we look at how minorities are faring in the state, and particularly in the Southland, we need a greater sense of reality about how this new demography is working out. Students in Salinas might soon learn more about ethnic history, but it’s not likely to help rescue their schools, which are rated poorly – even in comparison with the state’s overall mediocre standards.

As California continues to become less white – largely because of both foreign immigration and outmigration of native-born – we have to understand that diversity alone does not assure a prosperous society; that takes greater attention to issues like education and broad-based economic growth than to the politically correct approach of ethnic pandering or curricula manipulations.

Overview: A Middling result at Best

In order to see how various regions of the country perform for their black, Hispanic and Asian residents, we set up a rating system. In this effort, done with support from the Center for Opportunity Urbanism, we looked at three key economic factors – income, homeownership and self-employment – as well as population growth for each ethnic group.

Overall, the Los Angeles metropolitan area (Orange and Los Angeles counties) was middling, at best. It ranks 36th, according to our study, among 52 major metropolitan areas, for African Americans, just slightly ahead of New York. Among Asians, Los Angeles-Orange ranks 36th, while the picture improves somewhat, to 32nd, for Hispanics.

These relatively meager rankings reflect such things as homeownership rates 15 or more points lower for these groups compared with places like Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio and Atlanta. High housing costs are particularly a problem with Latinos, who, according a recent Fannie Mae study, place greater emphasis on homeownership than the overall population.

Minorities fare much better in the Inland Empire. The Riverside-San Bernardino area ranked No. 1 for Asians, No. 2 for Latinos and No. 4 for African Americans. The key factor is much higher homeownership rates – 55 percent for Latinos in the I.E. – 18 percentage points higher than in Los Angeles-Orange. There were differentials in homeownership rates of at least 10 points for both Asians and African Americans.

More surprising, minorities in the Inland Empire generally enjoyed considerably higher incomes than their more coastal neighbors.

Dispersing of Black L.A.

With the exception of Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, since 2000, Los Angeles-Orange endured the largest loss of African American population – some 8 percent – of any region in the country. Los Angeles County’s African American population dropped by 115,000 from 2000-13. This loss was heavily concentrated in traditionally black parts of Central and South Los Angeles – as well as the Long Beach-South Bay area – which together lost roughly 100,000 African Americans from 2000-11.

In contrast, African Americans are moving rapidly to peripheral areas. Orange County, for example, saw a 10.9 percet increase in black residents since 2000. Most of those increases are not in the more traditionally minority areas of North Orange County (Anaheim and Santa Ana) but in decidedly middle-class or even upper-middle-class South County areas, like Irvine. In Orange County, black household median income is more than 60 percent higher than in Los Angeles County.

The Inland Empire’s African American population increased by 60,000 – or 25 percent – from 2000-13. During 2000-11 – the most recent data set for ZIP Code Tabulation Areas – the inland African American population jumped most in areas such as Victor Valley, where it grew by 25,000, a 118 percent increase. Similar strong growth was seen in Perris-Temecula; Riverside-Moreno Valley also grew substantially, by 13,500 (a nearly 24 percent jump). Growth was much slower in traditionally minority areas such as San Bernardino.

Asians head east and south

Asians, like other minorities, also are heading to the regional periphery. Southern California’s Asian population grew by 611,000, a remarkable 36 percent, but less than half the increase occurred in Los Angeles County. Nearly all growth occurred in more suburbanized areas, such as the San Fernando Valley and the San Gabriel Valley (where the Asian population increased by nearly 25 percent since 2000). The largest percentage growth has occurred in the Santa Clarita-Antelope Valley area, where Asian residents grew by 23,000, a 138 percent increase, since 2000.

Unlike with African Americans, Asian numbers continue to rise, albeit slowly, in the central core. This includes a slight boost (4,000) in Downtown L.A. and 12,000 more in the densely populated area that includes the Wilshire corridor and South Los Angeles.

The biggest increases, however, occurred largely in the Inland Empire and Orange County. Once relatively unknown to the Asian community, the Inland Empire added 140,000 Asian residents from 2000-13, a jump of more than 100 percent.

Orange County also has emerged as another magnet for Asian residents. Since 2000, the Asian population in O.C. has grown by more than half – almost 200,000 residents – and more than twice the growth rate for Los Angeles County. Overall, the “Asian alone” census category constituted a larger part of O.C.’s population – some 19 percent – than anyplace else in the region.

Latinos move beyond barrios

Southern California’s diverse future will be determined, more than anything else, by Latinos, already the region’s largest ethnic group. The Los Angeles metropolitan area is home to nearly 6 million Latinos. From 2000-13, the Latino population of the five-county area grew by a remarkable 1.79 million. This amounted to a 27 percent increase, more than twice the overall growth rate for the region.

Most of the growth took place far from the traditional barrios of Los Angeles County. Latinos, like other minorities, are headed to more suburbanized areas of the county. The San Gabriel Valley, Long Beach-South Bay and Southeast L.A. County (such as Whittier and Norwalk) all showed increases nearing 20 percent. The largest growth, nearly 100 percent, was seen in the Santa Clarita-Antelope Valley.

Suburban dispersion among Latinos extends to Orange County, where their numbers grew by 22 percent, far above Los Angeles’ gain of less than 14 percent. The biggest numerical gain – some 100,000 people – took place in the traditional Latino bastions of North Orange County, but the biggest percentage increase was registered in South County, where the Latino population grew by more than 50 percent.

The Inland Empire was the biggest gainer, accounting for nearly 900,000, or more than half, of Southern California’s total growth in Latinos. From 2000-13, the region’s Latino residents grew by nearly 60 percent.

Implications for Future

Southern California’s tomorrow seems certain to be less white-dominated. Indeed, according to the state Department of Finance, by 2040 the five-county area will be 53 percent Hispanic, and non-Hispanic whites are expected to drop to 25 percent.

This diversity means many good things – more entrepreneurs, better restaurants and a more bracing cultural scene. But for minorities to succeed, they need to worry less about identity politics and focus more on basic skills, such as reading, writing, science and math. Indeed, both Latino and African American students in California fare far worse on standardized tests than most of their counterparts elsewhere, including in Texas, where education spending is considerably lower. Attempts to reform what is described as “Eurocentric” education, recently addressed by the Los Angeles Unified School District, can best be seen as placing emphasis in the wrong place.

Progressive politicians, who represent most minorities, need to acknowledge that many of their favorite policies – including keeping energy prices high and having a strong antipathy for the very suburbs where minorities are moving – run counter to the interests of the new nonwhite majority.

Southern California can still turn its ethnic and cultural diversity into a huge economic and cultural asset, but only by focusing on the success of minorities as individuals and families – not treating this majority of Southland residents as victims in need of recompense, rather than self-motivated people seeking opportunity.

Originally published in the Orange County Register.

Cross-posted at New Geography.