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July 1997 Volume 4 Number 7

California: Race, Welfare and Demography


President Clinton on June 14, 1997 launched what he promised would be a year-long campaign to improve the racial climate in the US. Beginning from the observation that California, the nation's most diverse populous state, is poised to become the first major state with no racial or ethnic majority, Clinton urged Americans to respect one another and not to let loyalty to ethnic or racial groups overshadow their identity as members of the larger society: "Can we be one America respecting, even celebrating our difference, but embracing even more what we have in common?"

Whites accounted for 54 percent of California's population in 1995 and 73 percent of the US population. In California, non-Hispanic whites are projected to be less than 50 percent of the population in 2002. As the white percentage of the population decreases, rates of interracial marriage are increasing and are about 30 percent among the youngest married people in Los Angeles.

Welfare. California Governor Pete Wilson opened the debate about welfare and immigrants by saying that welfare services "serve as a magnetic lure drawing illegal aliens across our border." Wilson in late March proposed to continue preventive health services such as immunization for all residents, regardless of legal status and to continue services for some severely disabled illegal immigrants. Wilson proposed to make illegal immigrants ineligible for 200 state programs, including prenatal care, drug treatment, mental health services and commercial fishing licenses.

As the California Legislature in June and July debated the state's $68 billion budget, a central issue was what to do about 2.7 million people on welfare, plus three million food stamp recipients, as well as more than 500,000 legal immigrants receiving federal means-tested benefits, many of whom may lose these benefits under 1996 welfare reforms. California received a $3.7 billion federal block grant for welfare in FY97, and Democrats and Republicans debated how tough to make work requirements, time limits for receiving welfare and whether to create a state program to provide benefits for immigrants.

California Democrats wanted to continue state funding for Food Stamps for legal immigrants, but in mid-June learned that the projected cost of providing Food Stamps to an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 legal immigrants, one-third of whom are children, would be $175 million a year, up from earlier estimates of $20 to $40 million. There is uncertainty about the number of recipients who will lose benefits because some may naturalize or qualify for benefits under exemptions for persons who have worked 40 quarters in the US.

More contentious is general assistance, the county program of last resort that offers assistance to poor people who do not qualify for other welfare programs. California is the only US state that requires counties to care for all financially needy persons within a state-regulated framework.

Both participation and benefits vary widely across California's 58 counties--of the 150,000 General Assistance recipients in early 1997, 90,000 were in Los Angeles county. Benefits range from $100 to $300 per month; about $450 million was spent on General Assistance benefits in 1996.

By October 31, 1997, each state must report to the federal government on its efforts to get 25 percent of adults receiving welfare into work by July, August and September 1997; with 189,000 welfare adults working in June 1997, California should be able to meet this federal requirement. But a second requirement is that at least 75 percent of the adults in two-parent welfare households be employed or in work programs, and California in June 1997 had only 34,000 such households in compliance, when it should have 77,000 of the roughly 100,000 such households in compliance.

A proposal in San Diego to require unauthorized aliens who receive assistance on behalf of their US-born children to work 40 hours a week in volunteer jobs in order to receive those benefits was defeated. San Diego requires welfare recipients to work toward finding jobs before they begin receiving assistance checks, but exempts illegal aliens because they are not legally allowed to work. In San Diego County, nearly 11 percent of the children who receive AFDC benefits have parents who are undocumented immigrants.

Polls. A May 1997 poll that found 51 percent of California residents having an unfavorable view of Governor Wilson and 39 percent having a favorable view, was attacked by Wilson as biased because the 1,008-person sample included about 11 percent non-US citizens. The attack prompted a closer examination of the sample, which found that, among registered voters, 46 percent have a favorable image of Wilson, and 46 percent have an unfavorable image.

However, among US citizens not registered to vote, the unfavorable to favorable ratio was 59-33 percent, and among non-US citizens, it was 66-17 percent.

Similar gaps between registered voters and non-US citizens appeared in a question about the effects of welfare reform on poor California residents: 40 percent of registered voters thought it would mostly have positive effects, versus 35 percent who thought it would mostly have negative effects. Among non-US citizens, 67 percent thought welfare reform would have negative effects and 14 percent thought it would have positive effects.

Suits. On June 3, 1997, a federal appeals court rejected California's suit for $400 million to cover the cost of incarcerating 20,000 illegal aliens in state prisons. California plans to appeal to the US Supreme Court, on the basis of a 1994 federal law that allows states to request reimbursement for the cost of incarcerating illegal aliens, or have the federal government take custody of them.

California received $252 million in reimbursement for incarcerating illegal aliens in FY96, half the national total, but the state claims the federal payment was insufficient.

Demography. California's population rose by 2.6 million between 1990 and 1996, to 32.6 million, largely because of immigration. California's population is expected to increase by five million in the 1990s, down from the six million increase of the 1980s.

In 1996, there were almost 600,000 births, 225,000 deaths, about 220,000 immigrants, minus 250,000 residents who moved to other states, for a net population gain of 350,000. With migration out of California slowing, the state is projected to have a population of about 50 million in 2025 and 63 million in 2040, when half of California's residents are expected to be Hispanic.

In 1990, about 58 percent of California residents lived in the seven counties of southern California, and southern California is expected to include the same proportion of the state's larger population in 2040. The 10-county San Francisco Bay area, which included 21 percent of California's residents in 1990, is expected to include only 14 percent of the state's population in 2040, while the Central Valley is expected to increase its share of state residents from 14 to 20 percent.

A study of income for 34 ethnic groups in Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, Riverside and San Bernardino counties using 1990 Census data found that US-born Mexican-American men had 1989 median incomes that were 61 percent as much as non-Hispanic white men in 1989, down from 81 percent in 1959. Mexican-born men earned only 39 percent as much as non-Hispanic white men in 1989, down from 66 percent in 1959.

Republicans in May 1997 announced their opposition to a US Census plan to sample minorities in the 2000 Census; sampling is expected to reduce the undercount of those missed by census takers and mail questionnaires. The 1990 undercount was believed to be four million, or 1.6 percent of the 250 million US residents, and 834,000 or 2.7 percent of California's 31 million residents. By race/ethnic group, it was estimated that about 0.7 percent of non-Hispanic whites were missed in the 1990 Census, 4.4 percent of Blacks and Hispanics and 2.3 percent of Asians.

An estimated $100 billion in federal funds are distributed each year according to formulas based on census data. Fewer US residents are returning mail questionnaires: 78 percent responded by mail in 1970; 75 percent in 1980; and 65 percent in 1990. The Census planned to reach 90 percent of US households by mail, telephone or personal visit and then to use sampling techniques to make a projection of the final 10 percent.


Carl Ingram and Max Vanzi, "Assembly Backs Welfare for Legal Immigrants," Los Angeles Times, June 6, 1997. Gebe Martinez, "New INS Check of Voters: 18,000 Matches" Los Angeles Times, May 30, 1997. Dexter Filkins, "INS check flags 500,000 OC voters," Los Angeles Times, May 22, 1997. James K. Glassman, "Count the 'real,' not virtual,' American, Washington Post, May 22, 1997. James Flanigan, "State's Economy Booming Again--but It's Different," Los Angeles Times, May 18, 1997.
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