Most Californians are optimistic about ethnic relations and agree that reducing crime and improving education and job prospects should be at the top of the state's agenda, according to a survey by a San Francisco-based think tank released Wednesday.
Yet the survey by the Public Policy Institute showed marked disagreement among ethnic groups on such issues as affirmative action, immigration and racial profiling of suspects by police.
Most people in the state recognize and welcome the state's demographic transformation into a "minority-majority" state and say new immigrants are a boon to California's economy.
These attitudes may be a reflection of the state's robust economy, the surveyors said.
"There's no question that the overall economic mood has been very positive over the past couple of years, and that has certainly helped along the race and ethnic relations in this state," said Mark Baldassare, a senior fellow at the institute and a co-author of the report. "It's a snapshot of what has been a very good economic time in California."
Still, despite the state's boom times, the study highlights some sharp disagreements. For instance, 72% of whites say affirmative action should end, and 78% of blacks think it should continue.
Also, only 43% of whites believe that police use racial profiling to target minorities, compared with 82% of blacks and 65% of Latinos.
"There are real divisions on most of these ethnically focused topics," said Zoltan Hajnal, also a co-author and institute fellow. "That's not to say that there aren't ways of getting around these differences."
The study--which was based on surveys of 20,000 California residents between April 1998 and May 2000--was prompted by Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante's Commission for One California.
Although he made no direct correlation with past studies on attitudes about race in California, Baldassare said his report suggests that ethnic tensions may have cooled since the early 1990s, when the economy was sluggish and different ethnic groups staked out positions on everything from the Los Angeles riots, to the O.J. Simpson trial to Proposition 187.
"We just haven't had many bad [racial] events lately," said Dowell Myers, a USC demography professor. Even the recent Rampart police corruption scandal has caused few ethnic ripples, he said. "Really it has been very quiet in California. There's not much resentment of immigrants. . . . It's the quietest time I can remember."
The report portrays a state in the midst of a rapid and radical demographic transformation. Last year, Latinos, African Americans and Asians outnumbered whites in the state for the first time. Mixed-race children are the third largest category of newborns after whites and Latinos. Since 1970, the white population shrank from 77% to just under half.
The study also reveals a startlingly optimistic outlook from the bottom rung of the economic ladder. Although a third of all Latinos surveyed reported making $20,000 a year or less, Latinos were also the most likely to be optimistic about their finances. Whites were the least optimistic.
Hank Lasayo, the president of El Concilio, a Ventura County nonprofit advocacy group, said many new Latino immigrants have different expectations from the state economy than many U.S.-born Americans.
"Many poor immigrants who are working in the fields for low wages just left countries where abject poverty is the norm and even the pittance they are paid here is better than what they had."
Similar cultural differences between U.S.-born and foreign-born Americans emerged in the survey. Whites and African Americans had higher levels of voter participation and interest in politics than Latinos and Asians. And U.S.-born Latinos and Asians were more politically involved than immigrants.
Baldassare said those differences could be attributed to immigrants' views of government in their native lands. "Some are from societies where political participation is not really a regular element of civic life."
African Americans were the most distrustful of government among the ethnic groups surveyed.
Although a majority of California residents recognize the economic contributions of immigrants, that finding masks a deep divide between immigrant and more established populations.
About half of California's African Americans and whites--45% and 53% respectively--say immigrants are a burden to California's economy, compared with 22% of Latinos and 29% of Asians.
"Immigration has very real drawbacks for African Americans because . . . we seem to be the racial and ethnic group continually pushed to the lower rung of the ladder," said Geraldine R. Washington, president of the Los Angeles National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.
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Schools, Immigration and Race
A survey of Californians by the Public Policy Institute shows agreement among racial and ethnic groups on the priority of many issues, but differences of opinion on immigrants and affirmative action.