Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters recently provided an excellent example of telling only half the story in his November 18 column, California Officially Has a Two-Tier Economy. Twenty-five years ago, Walters wrote a book titled The New California: Facing the 21st Century which predicted the state could eventually have an economy with wide disparity between rich and poor. Walters confirmed in his column that the day he dreaded would come has officially arrived. According to Walters, a Census Bureau poverty report and another analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, removed any doubt that California’s population consists largely of rich and poor with a rapidly diminishing middle class. Worse, California has by a large margin the highest poverty level of any state. California’s rich are richer and its poor are poorer.
Walters offered many reasons why California has such profound income inequality. On top of Walters’ list is the decline of a once-thriving industrial-based economy that wiped out good middle-class jobs with pensions and health care benefits. The dot com boom created wealth for the educated and technologically savvy but no jobs for those without computer skills. Also to blame, according to Walters, is a K-12 public education system that no longer adequately serves students.
But, astonishingly, Walters never mentions immigration as a culprit in California’s precipitous economic decline. Walters, as much as anyone, knows perfectly well that immigration is probably the biggest single contributor to California’s crisis. When Walters researched his book, he traveled 9,000 miles throughout California’s 58 counties to witness firsthand the state’s demographic and socioeconomic make up.
Walters ignored that, according to the Census Bureau, the foreign-born share of California’s population rose from 21.7 percent in 1990 to 26.2 percent in 2000 and then to 27.2 percent in 2010. In 2010, more than 10.2 million immigrants, legal and illegal, lived in California, a number greater than total population of Michigan.
Not all immigrants are poor. But most, especially illegal immigrants, do not have the skills or education to work in professional, high paying jobs. In its backgrounder titled A State Transformed: Immigration and the New California, the Center for Immigration Studies confirmed that California’s immigrants are predominantly poor; more than 53 percent participate in at least one welfare program. The same study ominously found that because most immigrants who live in California don’t have a high school diploma, California has the United States’ least educated workforce.
With Congress pushing hard for amnesty and the border wide open, the trend toward a poorer, less educated population in California may continue. Walters has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has written more than 7, 500 columns about California. He’s well aware of the devastating impact immigration has had on the state. In private, Walters would certainly agree that, on balance, high immigration has harmed California and helped push it to the fiscal brink. But in print, the reader is left to draw his own conclusions.