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CENSUS 2000 | FOCUS: YOUTH

Ever Younger Faces Bring New Challenges for State

Their growing numbers, driven in part by migration, highlight a greater need for schools and other services.

March 30, 2001|DOUG SMITH | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

The population of young people in Southern California grew by more than 20% during the 1990s, double the pace of the region's adult population, census data show.

The Southern California numbers are a dramatic version of trends across the state. Overall, California's youth population grew by 10% while the adult population grew by 8%.

The census numbers put an exclamation point on trends that children's advocates have watched with growing concern. They highlight the need for school construction, expanded juvenile justice and health systems as well as parks and recreation facilities, children's advocates say.

Moreover, the youthfulness of the population is expected to become more pronounced in the next two decades as young people have children of their own.

To some extent, the numbers released Thursday, which are used for redrawing electoral districts, only tantalize those trying to predict demands on public services.

The data make no age distinctions within the youth population, so it is unclear whether most children are preschoolers or about to graduate from high school.

More detailed data will be released in the next two years.

"It's hard to get much of a dynamic perspective out of that," said Dowell Myers, a USC demographer. "It will really be 2003 before we will predict the future."

For school officials, the new data only serve to emphasize what they already know from their inexorably growing enrollments: that the state has a huge job ahead in building classrooms.

State officials have long ago conceded that the $9.2-billion bond approved by voters in 1998--the largest in the state's history--is falling far short of the $35-billion job of repairing old schools and building all the ones that are needed.

The Legislature is expected to put an even larger bond issue on the ballot, probably in 2002.

Possibly the most far-reaching implication of the steady growth of the youth population is that it is driven, in large part, by immigration, said Peter Skerry, a fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington who teaches political science at Claremont McKenna College.

Expectations Among Immigrant Families

Generally, Skerry said, the second and third generations of immigrants bring higher expectations.

"It's the children of immigrants who are most demanding and most displeased with what they are receiving and what their families are receiving, expectations that are going to be hard to deal with--how well they're faring in the marketplace, if they're getting the jobs they feel they deserve, if they're getting the incomes they deserve," Skerry said. The numbers released Thursday show clearly that these forces will be felt across the state.

The state as a whole was slightly younger than the Southland, with more than 28% of its population younger than 18, compared with about 27% for the five-county region. The Central Valley was particularly youthful. In many of its census tracts, youths make up more than 35% of the population.

In Southern California, the population grew among those younger than 18: The number of white youths declined by nearly 12%, but a large increase in the number of Latinos and smaller increases among blacks and Asians more than made up for it.

Across the state, the number of Latino youths increased 56%, followed by Asians at 26% and blacks by nearly 10%. The same groups had smaller growth rates in Southern California: Latinos 36%, Asians 14% and blacks 8%.

Amy Dominguez-Arms, vice president of Oakland-based Children Now, said she was not expecting the sharp differential between whites and youths of other groups. The new information should prod policymakers to address gaps in education and health insurance coverage, Dominguez-Arms said.

"We sort of know what we're going to see, which is increasing diversity among the young population," she said. "We continue to see disturbing disparity in outcomes among kids of varying backgrounds.

"We've seen improvements in teen birth, some health outcomes, the high school dropout rate," she said. "But when you look at what's going on for kids of different ethnic backgrounds, you see where we're falling short."

The decline in the number of white youths reflects two significant trends, said demographer Hans Johnson of the Public Policy Institute of California.

The first occurred in the early 1990s when recession drove families to leave the state, particularly Southern California.

"Of the people who were leaving California, about 70% were white," Johnson said.

The second factor is more subtle, related to the aging of the predominantly white baby-boom generation. Their children are older, now crossing the divide into adulthood.

Changes Mirror Those of Overall Population

Changes in the racial distribution of the young mostly mirrored the overall population: Whites were fleeing suburban areas such as the San Fernando Valley and Orange County as the number of Latinos increased there.

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