George Boardman: Is California dreamin’ becoming a nightmare, as the critics claim?
Observations from the center stripe: Super Bowl edition
BAY AREA connection: Los Angeles quarterback Jared Goff grew up in Marin County and New England’s Tom Brady is a native of San Mateo County … BRADY (city of San Mateo) grew up about 10 miles from the home of his favorite receiver, Julian Edelman (Redwood City). Both played their college ball at Midwestern schools but never met until they got to New England … THE RAMS were listed as 1-point underdogs in Vegas before the New England-Kansas City game was over … WANT TO know what’s going to happen on the next play? Just pay attention to CBS analyst Tony Romo, who was spectacular at predicting plays during the Chiefs-Patriots game … THE WINNER is: Patriots coach Bill Belichick will figure out a way to make life uncomfortable for Goff. Besides, New England is 3-1 in Super Bowls during the Belichick/Brady era when the Patriots wear their white uniforms …
Numerous national pundits — most of who never lived here — have been claiming for decades that California is on a downhill slide to disaster. (These dire predictions first started appearing in the 1960s, so it must be a long slide.)
The refrain is consistent: over taxed, over regulated, over burdened with more people than the infrastructure can handle, and over ruled by elected leaders who are detached from reality. It makes you wonder how we managed to become the sixth largest economy in the world.
The initial criticism — I’m talking, ’60s, ’70s and early ’80s — came from the East Coast cultural and social elites, and gave off a distinct odor of jealousy. Nothing annoys people on the East Coast more — I’m thinking mainly New York here — than the thought they’re no longer the center of the universe.
More recently, conservative thinkers have been leading the attack — you know, the “left coast,” “all the nuts rolling to the west,” etc. Many were very upset when Hillary Clinton buried Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, denying him a popular vote victory. It is almost as if a presidential election victory isn’t really legitimate if you don’t carry the Golden State.
Conservative critics of the state zero in on how our liberal social policies and high taxes are leading us down the path of ruin, with particular emphasis on the divide between the coastal elites and the left-behinds in the rest of the state.
Victor Davis Hanson, a scholar at the Hoover Institution who is held in high regard by the few intellectually oriented conservatives who still exist, is the latest to weigh in on the state’s decline with a lengthy essay in National Review. This time, he’s taking aim at the hollowing out of the middle class. “In the end,” Hanson writes, “the diminishing middle lacks the romance of the distant poor and the panache of the coast affluent.”
This is part of the conservative drumbeat that posits the outflow of people from California is proof positive the state and its clueless decision makers are headed in the wrong direction.
The raw numbers suggest there is something to this argument. U.S. Census figures from 2017 — the latest available — show more people left California (661,026) that year than arrived (523,131) from other states and overseas.
Most of the departed — primarily people with young children and those with just a high school education — moved to Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Arizona and most of all, Texas, where they like to boast about the number of people flocking to the Lone Star state. While it’s true that more than 63,000 Californians moved there in 2017, it’s also true that more than 40,000 Texans—the most from any state — moved here.
So who are these people coming and going? “Although California has had net out-migration among most demographic groups, it has gained among those with higher incomes ($110,000 a year or more) and higher levels of education (graduate degrees),” according to the state Legislative Analyst’s Office.
The state attracts a steady stream of college graduates, especially from the East Coast, even as many of the less educated move out. Among those 25 and older, the state lost a net 86,890 residents without a bachelor’s degree in 2017 and just 4,443 with a four-year degree, according to census figures. The state gained 11,653 with graduate degrees.
Contrary to popular belief, most of the immigrants coming into the state are well-educated Asians with money. Between 2012 and 2016, 58 percent of new California immigrants came from Asia followed by 28 percent from Latin America, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.
The institute calculates that 51 percent of working age immigrants who’ve been in California five years or less have bachelor or graduate degrees, compared to 37 percent of all Californians.
“Many Asians come for technology jobs,” according to Dowell Myers, a demographer at the University of Southern California. “Also, they can handle the housing prices better that Mexican immigrants.”
“The cost of living, especially housing, is what stops the whole world from moving to California,” Myers said. “Otherwise, who wouldn’t prefer California? We have superior weather. We have mountains and oceans. And we have better jobs — better paying and more specialized, whether in tech, entertainment, the arts or medicine.”
Living costs — particularly housing — are the main culprit in a couple of trends that don’t bode well for the state’s future. Particularly in the more urban areas of the state, it is becoming increasingly difficult for families to afford the luxury of children. Already, San Francisco has the fewest residents under the age of 18 — just 13.4 percent — than any major city in the country.
Housing costs are also the source of the new segregation. The Association of Bay Area Governments recently used census figures to rank cities in the Bay Area by diversity. To nobody’s surprise, the outlying communities with the lowest housing prices had the greatest diversity. The wealthier communities were the most heavily segregated. Then there’s the homeless problem, exasperated by the high rents that shut out many of the poor.
But like every other problem, these are solvable because California continues to attract young, smart people and has always had the ability to reinvent itself: Name another state that has transformed itself from a gold mining magnet to a manufacturing powerhouse to a high-tech colossus in 170 years.
As for those people who felt the need to leave the state, they can take comfort in the observation of the Eagles that you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.
George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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