Businesses will respond more quickly than the government to the dramatic 69.2% increase during the 1980s of the state's Latino population, predicts demographics expert Leobardo Estrada.
Figures from the 1990 Census released last month show that Latinos make up nearly one-third of the population in the six-county Southern California region and one-fourth of the state population. California's 7.7 million Latinos outnumber the entire populations of all but the eight largest states in the nation.
"The private sector will see the new Latino statistics as a marketing opportunity--a 40% share in Los Angeles is too large to ignore," Estrada said. "But I'm afraid that government and public service agencies will see the statistics as a demand they cannot respond to."
Because a large part of the Latino population is under 18, Estrada said, he fears "a possible sacrifice of part of this new generation, in which the demand for education and health care cannot be met. We already see overcrowded health care centers and schools moving to year-round schedules."
The California population data documented what had become increasingly clear during the 1980s: a strong presence by Latinos, who as recently as 20 years ago made up less than 12% of California's total. Among the findings:
* The Latino population increase since 1980 was nearly five times the percentage growth of the non-Latino population statewide.
* The state's Asian population also grew rapidly during the 1980s, surpassing the Latino community's percentage increase. The state's racial-ethnic breakdown is Anglos, 57.2%; Latinos, 25.8%; Asians, 9.1%; blacks, 7%, and American Indians and others, 1%.
* Los Angeles County has 3.3 million Latinos, 37.8% of the county's total population. It has grown by 1.3 million Latinos since 1980.
* The population of the city of Los Angeles is 40% Latino. Among municipal areas with large percentages of Latinos are East Los Angeles, 95%; Maywood, 93%; Huntington Park, 92%; Bell Gardens, 88%, Irwindale, 86%, and San Fernando, 83%.
* Among the state's 10 largest cities, Anaheim recorded the highest percentage increase of Latinos, 122%, for a Latino population of 83,755. Santa Ana jumped 111%, to 191,383, and Long Beach's Latino population doubled during the decade to 101,419.
Some demographers had expected the Latino population surge of the 1960s and '70s to slow down during the 1980s, particularly after the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act was passed.
"A combination of factors, such as employer sanctions, increased enforcement along the U.S. borders, a recessionary economy, increased unemployment and high prices for housing, were expected to make immigration to the U.S. much less attractive," Estrada said. "In retrospect, those factors did not reduce immigration flows at all."
Along with a continuing influx of Mexican immigrants, who crossed the border both legally and illegally, experts say that more than a half million Central American refugees arrived in Southern California during the 1980s.
Armed with the census data, Latino community leaders say that they will press for equitable political representation, starting with the drawing of new congressional, state and local districts.
"The numbers will not translate immediately into votes," Estrada said, "because Latino growth is overwhelmingly due to new babies, who cannot vote until they reach 18, and immigrants, most of whom are not eligible to register to vote.
"But I see numbers around which it should be possible to create several Latino-majority state Assembly and U.S. congressional seats and even a couple of new state Senate seats," he said.
The state's population spurt to 29.7 million during the 1980s will mean a gain of seven seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Harry Pachon, national director of the National Assn. of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, said that the drawing of district lines for congressional and legislative seats will be crucial.
Latinos hold three of California's 45 seats in the House of Representatives, and Pachon sees a good chance of gains with the creation of possibly three more congressional districts in heavily Latino areas.
After the redistricting, Pachon envisions a "golden window of political opportunity" in the 1992 congressional election "when Latinos will have to mobilize to get people into office." Once a candidate wins a congressional race, he has "a 90% probability of being reelected," Pachon said.
The number of local Latino officials in California has risen by more than 25% in the past five years, according to Pachon.
Although the numerical population gains in Los Angeles city and county are significant, Estrada said, "I am most impressed by the Latino increases in Riverside County (147%), San Bernardino County (128%) and Orange County (97%).