¿Qué pasa? Long Beach
Demographer Examines Population Shifts In
By Jack Humphrey - Contributing Writer's Analysis
October 8, 2013 – Whether it was the election of Barack Obama or the appearance of Latinos or Asians in places where they previously were not found, White America has suddenly realized that change is occurring and it likely threatens its privileged position. Non-Hispanic Whites, accustomed to dominance, fear they soon will find themselves a minority in “their” country. Shocked and bewildered, they ask, “How could this happen?”
To a demographer the answer is obvious and no surprise – it is a simple matter of numbers, age and fertility; minorities are becoming more numerous, they are younger and they are more likely to be having children. In 2012, the Census Bureau announced that for the first time non-Hispanic Whites accounted for a minority of U.S. births. Additionally, Census 2010 revealed that since 2000, racial/ethnic minorities accounted for 91.7 percent of the country’s population growth.
Long Beach, already experiencing this transition, provides a useful “window” to this process. Long Beach has always been, to varying degrees, a racially diverse community. Over the decades Whites, Latinos, Japanese, Chinese, Blacks, Filipinos, Cambodians, Native Americans, Samoans, Tongans and others resided here. Census 2000, in fact, reported that among larger U.S. cities, Long Beach was the most racially diverse. Understanding “how” and “why” such rapid change in racial diversity occurs may provide insights into the future of Long Beach and the United States.
Long Beach has experienced three major growth periods; periods that produced increases not just in population, but also in area and racial/ethnic diversity (see Figure 1).
• The “oil boom” following the discovery in 1921 of one of the world’s richest oil fields resulted in a 156 percent increase in Long Beach’s population by 1930 and a doubling of its areal extent. This boom also made Long Beach for a time the nation’s wealthiest city; a situation that inevitably attracted new residents.
• The most remarkable growth period occurred between 1940 and 1960 as domestic migration during World War II and the post-war era doubled the city’s population, and expanded its boundaries nearly to their current extent. Long Beach’s role during the war attracted thousands of young persons, mainly from the Midwest (so many that it was often referred to as “Iowa-by-the-sea”) and the South. These new residents helped transform what had been a thinly populated, semi-rural landscape into a sprawling megalopolis featuring new freeways and burgeoning communities housing thousands of young, increasingly affluent families. It is an older, rather worn version of this once dynamic landscape that exists today.
• If the previous growth cycle created a larger, predominantly White city, the third growth phase has converted it to a multi-racial one. In 1980, as this momentous change began, Whites still comprised two-thirds of its population (see Figure 2).
But unnoticed were signs of an imminent change: 35.8 percent of White residents were age 50 and older; 38.2 percent of non-Whites were under age 18-years (see Figure 3).
The subsequent surge of young non-White immigrants during the 1980s and 1990s only intensified this disparity and rapidly altered the city’s racial/ethnic composition. So rapid was this shift that by 1990 Whites (49.7 percent) no longer were a majority.
Long Beach’s Changing Neighborhoods
Unsurprisingly, more than 100,000 new residents brought significant changes to Long Beach. Impoverished Cambodian refugees settled in the Cherry-Anaheim neighborhood, displacing Blacks already living there. During the 1990s, waves of Latinos settled near downtown and in North Long Beach.
The sudden arrival of so many immigrants dismayed many Whites as once familiar neighborhoods became strange, new ones. But fortuitously, these immigrants rejuvenated what had become an aging workforce comprised mainly of older White workers approaching retirement. Today, it is clear that the working immigrant community will play a critical role in Long Beach’s future growth and development.
While few neighborhoods remained unaffected by this demographic revolution (See map), change was most evident in North Long Beach. Developed during World War II to house workers, it was characterized by pleasant, but modest homes. Although Whites still formed 62.5 percent of its population in 1980, by 2000 Whites comprised just 13.7 percent and by 2011 they formed only 8.9 percent of its residents. Meanwhile, North Long Beach became a virtual “incubator” as its comparatively less expensive homes attracted younger Latino, Black and Asian families. Just as non-Whites had rejuvenated Long Beach’s workforce, so now they revitalized many older neighborhoods.
Other population shifts also occurred. Though Filipinos remained centered on the Westside, younger Filipinos migrated to the Wrigley area and other neighborhoods closer to the hospitals where many were employed. Blacks moved to North Long Beach, displaced by Cambodians and Latinos residing in their old community. Many Blacks also migrated to North Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties seeking more affordable homes.
Considering how swiftly change has occurred in Long Beach, what might the future hold? Several developments are probable:
• Latinos will soon form the majority of Long Beach’s population due to existing age-sex disparities among the racial/ethnic groups;
• Another immigrant “wave” is unlikely given tighter border controls and the increased attraction of alternate destinations, a fact that allows continued economic and social progress among existing migrants;
• The sizeable White “baby-boomer” population and the large non-White youth component create a bi-modal, racially based population distribution. This peculiar distribution will gradually normalize, however, as mortality reduces the “boomer” population and a declining fertility rate shrinks youth cohorts;
• Neighborhoods located in Southeast Long Beach and the Eastside will continue to be predominantly White until non-White incomes finally allow the purchase of the more costly housing located there. Bixby Knolls/Cal Heights, however, will likely continue a slow transition to more multi-racial neighborhoods;
• One of Long Beach’s major challenges will be curbing the outflow of young, non-White residents successfully transitioning to “middle-class” status who cannot find affordable local housing. Should no solution be found, Long Beach will lose a critical part of its future; and
• Multiple studies of America’s immigrants reveal that within 10-15 years of arrival, most are integrating into their adopted communities. It increasingly appears that a significant proportion of Long Beach’s newest residents are effectively following this model.
Long Beach’s example demonstrates that once certain critical number, age and fertility prerequisites are achieved, transformative change inevitably occurs. For White residents it took only a little more than a decade for their majority to become a minority, and for minorities to become the majority. Thus, short of implementing draconian measures, once a demographic transformation commences the outcome is virtually inevitable. This is an iron truth that applies equally at the national level. So, can White America avoid becoming a minority? Sorry, it’s too late, my friends!
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