Immigrants help Golden State go
by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Rocky Mountain News, March 26, 1996
California’s “comeback economy” has been getting a lot of ink. But terms like “comeback” and “recovery” are grossly misleading. Examples: California’s construction industry has not recovered. Its aerospace industry has not recovered either — and isn’t likely to.
Instead, the California “recovery” is more like a transformation — a molting or mutation. Reason: The California “comeback” is fueled by rapidly expanding employment in 21st century industries: entertainment, multimedia, computers, software, biotechnology and exports.
Taken together, more than two new jobs have been created in these industries of the future for every job lost in the construction and aeropsace industries. These are among the findings in “California: A 21st Century Prospectus,” a new Center for the New West report by Joel Kotkin and Steve Levy.
There are also cultural and demographic dimensions to California’s economic transformation: The large and growing importance of immigrants, especially Latinos and Asians. The new immigrants are bringing energy, connections and know-how to California’s new economy, though many politicians — both Republicans and Democrats — see immigrants as a drag on the economy. That’s too bad, because it leads to demogogic politics which are also wrong, economically and morally.
First, the Latinos. There are now more than 26 million Latinos in the U.S., representing 10 percent of the U.S. population. One-third live in California. Contrary to (false) media images created by the entertainment industry and the hand-wringing of too many wrong-headed Latino leaders who too often portray their brothers and sisters as “victims,” Latinos in America and California are not down-and-outers. Latinos, for example, have the nation’s highest labor force participation rate (78.2%) — 4.2 percent above the rate for white males. Nearly three out of four (73%) over 18 years of age speak English “well” or “very well”.
Latino consumer spending is over $200 billion. And Latinos are entering the middle class at a staggering pace — as shown by the 1990 Census where nearly half (48.2%) of America’s Latino households had earnings over $25,000, more than double the 19.2% found in 1980. In Los Angeles, Latino-owned firms have increased over 700 percent, three times the overall Latino population growth rate since 1977. Statewide, Latino-owned firms have exploded from 70,000 in 1982 to 280,000 this year.
Then consider the Asians. In the Silicon Valley, one out of four workers and one out of three engineers is Asian. Indian-American engineers played a major role in the founding of Sun Microsystems. AST Research, a major computer manufacturer, was founded by a Pakistani. Kotkin reports that “Intel’s Andrew Grove, himself an immigrant from Hungary, calls immigrant engineers his firm’s ‘secret weapon’.” A recent University of Michigan survey found more than 1,200 Chinese-owned computer firms in Southern California. In Orange County, six of the top 15 industrial firms are run by people born outside the U.S.
So, politicians beware! Immigrant-bashing and other forms of nativism have a long history in the U.S. But the nativists have been wrong at every turn. They are also wrong today.