Saturday, April 06, 2013

Cali Shore

Steve highlighted a NYT article on the increasing acceptance of illegal immigration in the state of California over the last couple of decades. That acceptance was coerced of course, as Californians peaceably tried, through the democratic process, to halt the transformation of their state by supporting proposition 187 in 1994 only to have it subsequently ruled unconstitutional in federal court. Thus the transformation continued, the most conspicuous consequence being that the golden state--which voted for Bush 41 in 1988--has become a permanent Democratic stronghold, one in which no Republican presidential candidate would dream of wasting time campaigning in.

I wondered how else the state's profile had changed relative to the rest of the country over the same period of time, so I dug up data on three conventional quality-of-life measures: Obesity rates, NAEP scores, and poverty rates. Diversity being strength, presumably things should be getting better for California on these measures!

On the fat front, indeed they are (or more accurately, corpulence isn't increasingly as rapidly in California as it is in the rest of the country)--in 1991, California was tied for the 10th slimmest 'state' (including DC) out of the 48 for which there were data. By 2011, it had upped its rep count to 6th slimmest of the same 48. Middle class white flight might have something to do with this, as native Californians who've remained have better SWPL credentials than the ones who've left do. Whatever the reasons, Cali continues to be as health-conscious as ever.

When it comes to scholastic achievement, though, things don't look so swole. Among 8th graders taking the math section of the NAEP in 1990, California's kids came in tied for 29th of 38 states. By 2011, they just had the Deep South and DC between them and the bottom of the barrel, coming in tied for 34th of the same 38 states. Alabama's motto is still "Thank God for Mississippi", but that may well soon change to "Thank God for California".

Twenty years ago, California's economic situation mirrored that of the nation as a whole. The state ranked 27th of 51 in the percentage of its population that was impoverished (the lower the ranking, the higher the poverty rate). Today, it's 35th of 51.

Healthier, intellectually incurious, and poorer--yep, that seems to capture the nation's contemporary transitioning, from sea to shining sea.


Anonymous said...

These are just compositional effects. If Mexican immigrants have low test scores, that doesn't directly harm natives, except through things like net tax burden or crime of the immigrants' children.

If you want to show harm, use statistics like changes in test scores for non-Hispanic whites, average tax burden on non-Hispanic whites, murder victimization of non-Hispanic whites. Otherwise, all your complaints are consistent with no harm to anyone at all, with both immigrants and natives better off.

Noah172 said...

California did not become healthier; it just did not get fatter at quite the same rate as the rest of the country. The national obesity rate tripled in the period in question, while Cali's increased just under two-and-a-half-fold.

That really is surprising, though. After blacks (who have been declining as a share of the Cali population), Mexicans have the worst obesity, and Cali sure does not lack for Mexicans. My guess would be: 1) that many CA Hispanics are recent immigrants not yet acculturated to the junk-food diet of American proles, keeping the growth rate of obesity down just slightly (then again, obesity is up sharply in Mexico itself, so what do I know?); and 2) the huge Asian presence in CA, among whom obesity is relatively low (AFAIK).

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Anonymous, I think the impression of harm comes from two associations. Both are real, but I think you are correct that we may overrate the harm caused to natives.

First, it seems that inane, expensive, ineffective solutions to educational problems increase as scores go down. It may not be so. That may simply be a frustrated impression. Second, have less educated/intelligent people around you does decrease one's quality of life, especially if crime, which is associated with lower intelligence, increases.

Still, as you note, that is not direct. The fact that my state's test scores went up or down doesn't make my kids' scores any higher or lower.

Audacious Epigone said...


The ability to isolate oneself from a national deterioration in quality of life does little to lessen the depressive feelings it gives me. I guess I shouldn't despise the success of Jersey Shore, either, since I can (and do) just avoid it.

Higher poverty rates and lower test scores do intrude on the quality of life of those who've made no direct contribution to these things occurring, too--more graffiti, trash, dilapidation, and loud music in public spaces and teachers having to spend inordinate amounts of time dealing with restless, dumb kids at the expense of the rest.