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California Is Now A Majority Minority State: Politics Must Change With Demography

by Carlos Muñoz, Jr.

October 4, 2000
Copyright © 2000 All Rights Reserved.

The U.S. Census has made it official: Whites are no longer the majority in California. While this demographic shift was expected, it became a reality sooner than predicted. Now we will see if this diversity transforms California into an authentic multicultural democracy, where people of all races have equal opportunities. The new census figures show that whites of European descent now make up 49 percent of the California's population, while Latinos, Asian Americans, African Americans and Native Americans constitute 51 percent of the state's population. California, by virtue of its unique multiracial and multiethnic mix, has the potential to lead the nation in the shaping of a new politics.

But it needs public servants with the courage to address the concerns of the new majority, and it needs members of that new majority to clamor for the policy changes that are necessary.

Until now, California's politicians have often catered to the white majority. White politicians spearheaded campaigns that terminated affirmative action, generated anti-immigrant policies and ended bilingual education.

With the new demographics, we ought to expect -- and demand -- more attention to our real, pressing needs. Take Latinos, who now constitute 32 percent of Californians and are the largest sector of the new majority in California. We remain underrepresented in higher education and in the professional and corporate sectors. For example, in the University of California system, only 4.1 percent of the faculty are Latinos.

Latino underrepresentation in the professions is likely to continue because Latino youth are not receiving quality public schooling. Too few Latinos graduate from high school, and too few are eligible for college. According to a joint study by the Field Institute and the University of California at San Francisco, 56 percent of the state's Latinos have an education level of high school or lower, compared to 28 percent of African Americans, 14 percent of whites and 11 percent of Asian Americans. Only 15 percent of California's Latino population have a college degree. That study also showed that the majority of Latino workers have not benefited from California's booming economy. Latinos make up 25 percent of the state's workforce but have the highest poverty rates and are more likely to lose their jobs.

In addition, a disproportionate number of Latinos still do not have health insurance. According to the Coalition for a Healthy California, 40 percent of Latino adults and one-third of Latino children do not have health insurance.

Latinos and other people of color will not experience significant gains simply because we have become the new majority. To get our share of the American Dream, we must translate our numbers into political and economic power. We must hold candidates accountable for how they address our concerns, and we must flex our muscles in the marketplace and in the fields, in academia and on the shop floor to make sure we are never taken advantage of again.

If we do that in California, we will be sending an unmistakable signal to the country as a whole: Yesterday's minorities are tomorrow's majority, and we demand the justice that has long been denied us.

Carlos Muñoz Jr. is professor emeritus in the department of ethnic studies at the University of California in Berkeley. He can be reached at

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