Minorities Become Majority in State, Census Officials Say


Minorities are now the majority in California, according to Census Bureau population estimates unveiled today.

Experts said this demographic trend will become a national one in the next few decades as the population of the United States swells with the arrival of more immigrants and the birth of minority children.

“This just confirms that California continues to be the major gateway melting pot for immigrants in the United States despite the fact there’s a spillover and movement out of California,” said demographer William Frey, of the Santa Monica-based Milken Institute. The trend will lead to an image of Californians far different from the stereotype of blond surfers and beachgoers, other experts said.


According to the Census Bureau estimates for 1999, whites total 49.9% of the state’s 33.1 million residents. Latinos follow at 31.6%, Asians at 11.4%, blacks, 6.7% and American Indians, less than 1%.

The bureau estimates are the last to be released before detailed Census 2000 results come out next year.

“We’re seeing the formation of a new regional identity,” said David Hayes-Bautista of UCLA, a researcher on Latino and immigrant demographics. Like Texans, Californians will speak English infused with Spanish and blend in facets of Latino culture. But they won’t call it Latino. It simply will be Californian, he said.

“What this really means is there is not one single group that is totally dominant,” said Harry P. Pachon, president of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, adding that subsequent generations will intermarry, further blending culture, ethnicity and race.

“Politics of inclusion are going to have to be the norm for all Californians simply because of demographic realities,” Pachon said.

Not everyone accepts the census findings.

The head of the state Finance Department’s demographic research unit said it is too soon for the Golden State to claim a minority majority. Linda Gage said that in her estimate, the state will not pass the milestone until July 2001.


Still, there are areas of agreement. “Certainly we’re both showing very significant growth in our minority population,” Gage said.

The Census Bureau showed steady gains within Latino and Asian populations over the past decade, particularly in Los Angeles County. (The county has had a minority majority since at least 1990, according to Census figures).

In fact, Los Angeles showed the biggest Latino population by county in the nation: 4.1 million, up 23.6% between 1990 and 1999. It also topped all the others in Asian population with 1.2 million, up 26.1% in the decade.

Proportionally, the number of Asian and Latino residents in surrounding counties surged even higher.

Nationally, Latino and Asian numbers increased substantially during the past decade as well. Between July 1, 1990, and July 1, 1999, the nation’s Asian and Pacific Islander population grew 43.0% to 10.8 million, and the Latino population grew 38.8% to 31.3 million.

Unlike Los Angeles County, however, the white population nationally increased between 1990 and 1999, rising 7.3% to 224.6 million, according to the census figures. In Los Angeles County, white residents decreased by more than half a million during that period.


Los Angeles County also differed from national estimates in black population growth. Nationally, blacks remained the country’s largest minority group, increasing 13.8% during the same period to 34.8 million. The county’s black population dropped close to 4%.

Overall, Los Angeles County gained close to 455,000 residents between 1990 and 1999, the Census Bureau reported, although like the state, county demographers say the Census Bureau estimate is too low.

The nation’s American Indian and Alaska native population, meanwhile, increased 15.5% to 2.3 million.

While the biggest percentage increases of minorities occurred in Nevada, Georgia and North Carolina, the largest number of minorities live in the country’s most populous states, New York, California and Texas, census officials reported.

The difference between the state and federal estimates highlights an almost decade-long dispute over how the two levels of government count heads.

While the federal and state agencies use the same methods and sources to reach their estimates, there is one significant difference that contributes to the discrepancy, Gage said. The state uses Department of Motor Vehicle records to determine interstate migration. Such migration is largely white, resulting in a difference in ethnic totals.



Data analyst Sandy Poindexter contributed to this story.


California’s Shifting Population

California population estimates by year, ethnic group or race, and the percentage of the total population each group represented each year.


1990 % of total 1999 % of total Group population population population population White 17,089,221 57.1% 16,526,103 49.9% Latino 7,775,669 26.0% 10,459,616 31.6% Asian 2,766,862 9.2% 3,763,072 11.4% Black 2,131,952 7.1% 2,205,359 6.7% Am. Indian 186,407 0.6% 190,971 0.6% Total 29,950,111 33,145,121



With the growth of diverse racial and ethnic communities statewide, whites are no longer a majority of the population in 11 California counties. Those counties and year that whites lost majority status.

Alameda: 1993

Monterey: 1993

Fresno: 1991

San Benito: 1992

Imperial: 1990*

San Francisco: 1990*

Kings: 1994

Santa Clara: 1999

Los Angeles: 1990*

Tulare: 1995

Merced: 1994


* May have occurred earlier.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Researched by Richard O’Reilly / Times director of computer analysis