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Jack Smith

Almanac's statistical profile of the state of California has him playing the percentages

March 26, 1986|JACK SMITH

Statistics are thought to be dull and untrustworthy. They are approximations at best, and sometimes significantly inaccurate. They can mean one thing to one person and another to someone else.

Yet the world we live in has become so large and complex, and beyond our perceptions, that statistics are the only way we have to get a handle on it. The census tells us how many we are, what color we are, what faith we keep, if any, and whether we are married or living in sin.

The California Almanac, 1986-1987 Edition, published by Presidio Press and Pacific Data Resources, does a thorough job of defining, in statistical form, this rich, trendy, cosmopolitan, growing, influential and magnetic state.

California is so variegated and complex that San Franciscans have no idea what life is like in Los Angeles, and many immigrants from Mexico and Vietnam have no idea what the state is like beyond their own neighborhoods.

However decadent it may seem to some--weakened by unemployment and inflation, demoralized by crime, deluded by cultists, corrupted by pornographers, debased by land developers, decimated by homicidal psychopaths and pillaged by its juveniles--California remains a never-never land of riches, fame and freedom to millions around the world.

Despite our pockets of poverty, we are fabulously wealthy.

California has 64,500 millionaires, with assets of $167 billion; 56% of us own our homes; 90% of us own at least one car; the median family income is $28,300. (In Marin County it's $39,900.)

California is a good place for females, or not, depending on how you look at the statistics. Of our wealthiest citizens (those with assets of more than $500,000), 57% are women. Of the 266,000 abortions performed in 1982, 55,800 were on teen-agers. In the past 15 years, births to unmarried women have doubled; 14% of white, 29% of Hispanic, and 56% of black children were born to unmarried women.

Though crime in general is declining, there was still a total of 76,743 arrests for violent crimes in 1984 (down from 81,594 in 1982), including 3,896 homicides.

It is curious, and seemingly inconsistent with the feminist goal of equality, that of the 44,000 persons in the state's prisons, only 5% are women. Obviously women are less likely to commit crimes, and when they do, they are less likely to commit crimes of violence. That this distinction begins early is seen in the number of juveniles held in detention: Of the 6,324 held by the California Youth Authority in 1984, 96% were males.

Despite the rape, mayhem, robbery and murder, California is still El Dorado to refugees from boredom, poverty, stagnation and despotism.

The state's population is 26 million--almost 9 million more than New York's. Eleven percent of the nation's residents live here. More than 1 million have moved here since 1980.

Los Angeles is the nation's 2nd-largest city, San Diego the 8th, San Francisco the 10th and San Jose the 17th. Evidently many immigrants have found the answer to that popular song of the 1970s, "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?"

While California used to draw its newcomers from the Midwest, the Northeast and the South, in recent years the great waves of immigrants have come from Asia and Mexico--the Asians to escape tyranny and the Mexicans to escape poverty. Hispanics now number 20% of the state's population, and Asians 5%. Both are expected to increase dramatically by the end of the century--Hispanics to at least 25% and Asians to 15%. Blacks number only 7% of the population and that figure is expected to remain stable or decline.

The Almanac's figures refute the myth that every marriage in the state is matched by a divorce. The 138,000 divorces obtained in 1982 were a record; but 231,000 marriages more than offset them.

Californians of 65 and older numbered only 5.3% of the population in 1910 and 8.5% in 1950. By 1980 we were 10.2%, and by the year 2000 we will be 12.4%, if we live that long.

The statistics bear out the concern widely expressed about the decline of the family. The total number of households grew substantially in the last decade, but the average size of households declined from 2.9 to 2.7 persons.

One of the things I don't understand about statistics is how a couple can have 0.9 or 0.7 children. But when the Daltons lived across the canyon from us on Mt. Washington they had one child and we had two. So I guess that works out to 1.5 children each.

The Almanac says: "The percentage of households with nuclear families (a married couple with children) declined from 36% to 28%; the percentage of married couples without children remained almost unchanged at 28%; and, finally, the number of non-families (people living alone or with unrelated individuals) rose from 24% to 31% between 1970 and 1980."

Four-fifths of Californians drink alcohol. Nationwide the figure is only a little more than half. Each year Californians drink 26 gallons of beer, five gallons of wine and two gallons of hard liquor per capita.

Someone recently cited those figures as an argument for Prohibition; but if you break them down to the amounts drunk daily they don't sound so bad. I figure it as about two-thirds of a pint of beer, one-third of a glass of wine, and two-thirds of an ounce of hard liquor a day. Hardly enough to get a decent buzz on.

Californians smoke less tobacco but more marijuana than the nation as a whole.

Maybe that's why we're so laid back.

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