With a statewide budget crisis, a worldwide economic downturn and declining population figures, some pundits are beginning to wonder whether the “California Dream” is in trouble.
Several UC Davis professors, however, say that California is strong enough to weather the current crises.
One measure of population change, domestic migration, focuses on people moving between California and other U.S. states. By this measure, there was a net loss of 144,000 people domestically according to census estimates for the year ending July 1, 2008. The net loss was the highest in the nation. New York lost the second most to domestic migration with a net loss of 126,000 people.
California’s total population actually increased in that time by 380,000 due to foreign immigration and a relatively high birth rate.
Still, this is the fourth year in a row more people have moved out of California to other states than have moved into the Golden State from within the U.S.
“I think California continues to be a special place, but for the less fortunate, it gets increasingly more difficult to find a job that can support you or get aid from various agencies if you can’t,” said Jack Hicks, senior lecturer in the English department. “Even if you can make a good living, there are obvious problems with urban gangs, traffic, pollution, etc. that make it more challenging to live here than many other states.”
Still, history professor Louis Warren said he is not too worried. He said the complexity and size of the state makes any universal judgment difficult.
“I’ve heard this my whole life – it’s gone, it’s over,” Warren said. “And it’s never happened.”
Also, he said people leaving the state reflect the California Dream about as much as people coming. Between the ports and airports, people come to California as the first step toward something else.
“Passing through California is as big of a tradition almost as staying,” Warren said. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing.”
But the census estimates do not say who is leaving the state. Philip Martin, professor of agriculture and resource economics, said that information won’t be available until 2010.
“The problem is, we don’t know who the people are,” he said. “If they are college educated, that would be a problem.”
Martin said the innovation and brain power in California are among its many advantages. Domestic emigration out of the state only becomes a problem when the replacement human capital is not of equal caliber to the people leaving.
Warren said the California Dream means providing opportunities to get ahead. Today that often translates to higher education. He said generations of Californians have built our university system, and education needs to continue to be a priority for the state to be successful.
“There are many opportunities for higher education thanks to enormous public investment,” Warren said. “There’s the question of whether the state will remain invested.”
There is no doubt the state of California has some serious questions to address, but many noted that the state has seen painful downturns before and made it through.
Hicks said our legislators need to make some big changes to keep the state running. But he said the dream is far from over.
“The bloom may be off the rose a little, but the overall population of the state continues to rise, even in the midst of serious economic problems,” Hicks said. “So no, I don’t see this as a harbinger of impending doom or the death of the California Dream.”
ELYSSA THOME can be reached at email@example.com.