For the first time since California became a state in 1850, Latinos will surpass whites as the largest ethnic group by 2014, according to demographic numbers released Thursday.
The state Department of Finance estimates that by the middle of this year, whites and Latinos will each represent about 39% of California population, with Latinos reaching a plurality soon after that.
Officials expect that by 2060, Latinos will make up 48% of the state’s population, compared with 30% for whites. Asians will make up 13% of the population, and blacks 4%.
As the white baby boomer population moves into retirement, Latinos and Asians will play an even bigger role in the state’s labor force, according to the state report.
In 2030, there will be 9.6 million Latinos in the prime working ages of 25 to 64; there will be 7.2 million whites and 3.1 million Asians, the report said. By 2060, there will be 12.1 million Latinos in that working group, compared to 7.4 million whites and 3.2 million Asians.
Experts said these shifts will bring fundamental changes to the demographics of the workplace, as many baby boomers — the majority of whom are white — retire.
“This should serve as a wake-up call and appreciate how the older generation needs the younger generation,” said USC demography and urban planning professor Dowell Myers.
The more educated and prosperous this younger generation is, the more they can contribute to California’s tax base as the baby boomers’ contributions decrease, Myers said.
“Without the babies born to those immigrant mothers, we would really be in deep trouble,” he added.
Myers and others said the projections underscore the importance of education in helping the future workforce be as productive as possible.
The report also predicted a significant age gap among different ethnic groups.
By 2030, there will be 7.2 million Latinos younger than 25 compared to 2.2 million who will be 65 or older. By comparison, 4.1 million of the white population will be 65 or older and 3.8 million will be younger than 25.
The rise of California’s Latino population has been apparent for decades. And news that Latinos will surpass whites in total population has been predicted for some time.
“The projections are a continuation that have been observed for the last 20 years,” said James Allen, professor emeritus at Cal State Northridge.
The report also included some new growth projections for the state.
California’s population will reach nearly 52.7 million by 2060, crossing the 50-million threshold by 2049, the study found.
The population in Los Angeles County will increase by 1.7 million by 2060, an 18% increase from 2010.
The county’s population of whites and blacks will decrease by 25% and 17%, respectively, from 2010 to 2060. The Asian population will increase by 27% and the Latino population will get a 43% boost.
In Orange County, the state projects a 10% population increase by 2060. Ventura County should see a 25% population increase during the same period, officials said.
Rural Imperial County could see its population double by 2060.
Times staff writer Chris Megerian in Sacramento contributed to this report.