Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
Frank Bernheisel
Posted 7.19.21
Just Outside Washington



My friend Janie, who lives in San Diego County, recently complained that her old California is gone, which she attributes to illegals and great wealth. But for me, I think nothing ever stays the same.

As we get older everything changes: body, mind, emotions, relationships (just think of the friends who have died), and more. We should expect change in our lives, and our task is to make change work for us.

Immigration and Population

So, what has changed in California, and when did it happen.

Hispanics started settling in California in the 1500s and were very few compared with the about 300,000 Native Americans before Hispanic settlements in 1769. The Mexican War of Independence (1810 – 1821) was an armed conflict and political process that began Mexico's independence from Spain.

It was not a single, coherent event, but local and regional struggles that occurred within the same time period and can be considered a revolutionary civil war. When Spanish liberals overthrew the autocratic rule of Ferdinand VII in 1820, conservatives in New Spain saw an opportunity. Former royalists and old insurgents formed an alliance and forged the Army of the Three Guarantees.

This momentum of independence saw the collapse of royal government in Mexico, and the New Spain was reorganized as the Mexican Empire. After some Spanish reconquest attempts, Spain under the rule of Isabella II recognized the independence of Mexico in 1836.

By 1846, Alta California, the Spanish-speaking population, had grown to just under 10,000, tiny even compared to the sparse population of states in the rest of northern Mexico.

The Californios consisted of about 800 families, mostly concentrated on large ranchos. About 1,300 American citizens and a very mixed group of about 500 Europeans, scattered mostly from Monterey to Sacramento, dominated trading as the Californios dominated ranching. In terms of adult males, the two groups were about equal, but the American citizens were more recent arrivals.

Before 1846 California was a part of Mexico and had very few non-Hispanic citizens, except for the Native Americans, the most numerous at about 100,000 (down from about 300,000 before Hispanic settlements in 1769). The California Gold Rush in 1848 led to a massive influx of settlers -- including thousands of Mexican miners, but also tens of thousands of Americans from the East. Other substantial immigrant groups included Chileans and Chinese.

The Mexican Revolution also brought many refugees to California, including many Chinese Mexicans who fled anti-Chinese prejudice during the war and settled in the Imperial Valley. Even though more than 170 years have passed, California is still a melting pot.

According to the United States Census Bureau, in 2018 the population self-identifies as (alone or in combination): 72.1 percent White (including Hispanic Whites); 36.8 percent non-Hispanic whites; 15.3 percent Asian; 6.5 percent Black or African American; 1.6 percent Native American and Alaska Native; 0.5 percent Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander; 3.9 percent Two or more races.

California's population shrank last year, which was the first time in its history that the nation's most-populous state has seen a decline in the number of people living here.

In 2020 the population was 39,368,078, a 0.18 percent decline from 2019. This decline is "Driven largely by a declining birthrate, the state's population growth slowed in recent years and essentially hit a plateau," said H.D. Palmer, the Department of Finance's deputy director and chief spokesperson.

"What's temporarily tipped us into negative territory over the past year is deaths caused by covid, combined with the impact of immigration policy." As the chart shows, California has had a steady growth in population. When I lived in Riverside in 1941, the California population was only 7.2 million people. As the green line on the chart shows, the growth rate spiked during WWII to 10 percent.

California Population and Growth Rate By Year

Data Source: U.S. Census Bureau - Population Estimates

Starting in 2010, for the first time since the California Gold Rush (1848-1855), California-born residents make up most of the state's population.

Along with the rest of the United States, California's immigration pattern has shifted. This change started in the late 2000s and continued into the 2010s. Immigration from Latin American countries dropped significantly with most immigrants now coming from Asia.

In total for 2011, there were 277,304 immigrants. Fifty-seven percent came from Asian countries versus 22 percent from Latin American countries. Net immigration from Mexico, previously the most common country of origin for new immigrants, has dropped to zero or less than zero since more Mexican nationals are departing for their home country than immigrating. As a result, the projected Hispanic population will constitute 49 percent by 2060, later than the previously projected 2050. Further, this growth will be due primarily to domestic births.

The state's population of undocumented immigrants has been shrinking in recent years, due to increased border enforcement and decreased job opportunities for lower-skilled workers. The number of migrants arrested attempting to cross the Mexican border in the Southwest decreased from a high of 1.1 million in 2005 to 367,000 in 2011.

Despite these recent trends, illegal aliens constituted an estimated 7.3 percent of the state's population, the third highest percentage of any state in the country, totaling nearly 2.6 million. In particular, illegal immigrants tended to be concentrated in Los Angeles, Monterey, San Benito, Imperial, and Napa Counties -- the latter four have significant agricultural industries that depend on manual labor.

More than half of illegal immigrants come in from Mexico. This does not jibe with Trump's quote: "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best, ... They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists."

However, the Public Policy Institute of California says: "Immigrant adults have lower incarceration rates than U.S. born adults in California." This leads me to conclude that they have lower rates of serious crime.

California Economy

California's economy ranks among the largest in the world. In 2019, the gross state product (GSP) was $3.2 trillion ($80,600 per capita), the largest in the United States[i]. As of 2018, California's nominal GDP is larger than all but four countries (the United States, China, Japan, and Germany).

In 2016 the Total Non-farm Employment was 14,600,349 in 922,477 employer establishments. The five largest employment sectors in the state are trade, transportation, and utilities; government; professional and business services; education and health services; and leisure and hospitality.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in March 2021 California had an unemployment rate of 8.3 percent compared to the U.S. rate of 6 percent, which is nearly half of the 16 percent peak hit one year ago, but is still 4 percent above the pre-pandemic level seen in February 2020.

Agriculture is an important sector in California's economy. Farming-related sales more than quadrupled over the past three decades, from $7.3 billion in 1974 to nearly $31 billion in 2004. This increase has occurred despite a 15 percent decline in acreage devoted to farming during the period, and water supply suffering from chronic instability.

Factors contributing to the growth in production-per-acre include more intensive use of farmlands and new technology. In 2011, California's 81,500 farms and ranches generated $43.5 billion products revenue, primarily from milk and cream, shelled almonds, and grapes, which accounted for two percent of the state's GDP and employed around three percent of its total workforce.

As noted above, the per capita GDP in 2019 was $80,600; however, this varies widely by geographic region and profession. The Central Valley is the most impoverished with migrant farm workers making less than minimum wage. Every spring, a couple million migrant farmworkers, mostly immigrants, many undocumented, jump from farm to farm, state to state, to harvest the nation's crops.

Further, most are dependent on scarce, often dilapidated, temporary housing. Many live in unlicensed, hazardous labor camps, which are often owned by farmers. When I worked on the Model Cities Program in the 1970s the housing I saw was unsanitary, crowded and poorly ventilated with risks to workers' health.

For a decade, grape farmers in Napa Valley have levied taxes on themselves to pay for dormitory-style housing, meals, laundry facilities and literacy classes for some of the farmworkers who keep their $533 million industry cranking. Amid a worker shortage, Napa growers want to do what they can to attract the labor they need, said Jennifer Putnam, executive director of the Napa Valley Grapegrowers, a coalition of growers, vineyard owners and associated businesses.

Many coastal cities with high-technology industry, include some of the wealthiest U.S. per-capita areas, i.e., Silicon Valley, Santa Clara, and San Mateo counties. In 2019, there were 1,042,027 millionaire households in the state, more than any other state in the nation. So, I find it surprising that more migrants are not rushing to California.

Final Thoughts

Janie is correct, the California she has known is gone; but it continues to have the largest U.S. state economy and one that has brought many additions and innovations to American life.

Where would we be without Hollywood, Counter Culture, Monterey Pop Festival, Surf Culture, Wine, and Silicon Valley. And we all love to visit the natural wonders, including: Giant Redwoods, Big Sur, Death Valley, Yosemite National Park, and more. It is time to go back!

1- The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the United States was worth $20.936 trillion in 2020, according to official data from the World Bank. This results in a Per Capita GDP of $63,166.83. California's Per Capita GSP is 28 percent higher.

2- In 1834, when Richard Henry Dana arrived in California, there were very few people, mostly cattle ranchers and priests. Dana crewed on a ship from Boston, bound for California around Cape Horn to collect hides to take to Boston to make leather products.

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