Don Rogers: California cresting
California will lose a U.S. House seat for the first time ever. Oh, oh.
The decline must be on. It’s curtains for the dream. Who can stand to live here now? Everyone’s leaving.
Yes sir, the boom has gone bust, the golden state’s luster has dimmed and moved on to Colorado, Idaho, Utah, Texas. Goodbye Oracle, Hewlett Packard, Elon Musk.
Along with tech titans, Texas is picking up two more House seats as California drifts the way of Illinois, Ohio, New York, those dodos.
Our state’s population has only grown by 6% between 2010 and 2020, according to the U.S. Census. In 2020 we even shrunk, if only by a gnat’s eyebrow. That never happened before.
Conservatives are crowing. See, they say, see? The place has gone to hell under progressive leadership. That’s why everyone’s leaving. Gotta fix the nanny government. Ruining everything.
Well, first off, people aren’t really leaving, at least not in greater numbers than in the past. A certain portion of the population always leaves. Born here, I’ve left a few times myself and for the usual reasons — that next job, family considerations. I’ve also come back.
It’s the number of people moving here that has declined big time. The plummeting birth rate. And then there’s immigration — legal and otherwise — which has slowed like a spigot turning off.
The tide from Mexico pretty much ebbed as that country’s living conditions improved. Mexicans used to account for 60% of the illegal immigrants in the United States, peaking around 2007, then dropping by a good third ever since.
The stream from Central America has swelled, certainly, but illegal immigration overall has fallen off since 2007, as well. By the way, roiling politics aside, the practical solution is not a wall but better conditions back home as the current swarm surrenders to Border Patrol, hoping for asylum.
What’s going on with our state’s population has a lot more to do with promise than flight. In this, the conservatives have a point. Living here may not be bad enough for all of us to flee, but neither is it so good anymore that everyone else wants in.
Call it an expensive shot across the progressive bow.
The grievances listed for recalling Gov. Gavin Newsom range from longstanding differences in how to deal with homelessness, housing, immigration, taxation, regulation, climate change and so on to how the state has handled the pandemic from lockdowns to reopening the schools to massive unemployment fraud to chaotic changes in criteria for restriction tiers.
I’m no fan myself. California’s supermajority governance strikes me as awful, especially with progressive priorities. Homelessness got worse, not better. Same with housing. Utopian legislation with respect to labor, business, transportation, environmental regs aimed at climate change has every appearance of making things worse, as well. No quibble with the good intent. It’s the real world consequences. The touch hasn’t exactly been Midas.
Thanks largely to Hollywood and Silicon Valley, our state holds onto the fifth-largest GDP among all the nations, and by real measures also the worst poverty in the country.
Then there’s the governor’s Marie Antoinette moment at the Napa restaurant, impossible to unsee and all too emblematic of his leadership. You just know that wasn’t the only time, or the last.
Still, for all that, this indeed is the Republican recall effort, even if some Democrats got caught up, too. Not that I would mind a more conservative turn at this point. The political pendulum here has swung way too far the other way.
But Newsom will easily survive in this bluer than blue state, and only months later, we’ll just have a bit of election deju vu. Is this really worth up to $400 million to stage a recall election?
Where’s the promise in that?
A BAD THING?
So California stopped growing like a weed, doubling in population since the boomers graduated from high school. If a pandemic, we’d be relieved.
But population cresting is posed almost always as a bad thing. Is it?
As has happened in Japan, coming fast for China, the population ages when it stops growing. Economic output has a similar arc, and national debt climbs while social welfare spending increases.
Europe is at the doorstep, though immigration and increases in life expectancy keep the population growing. The United States is closest to the EU. Ironically enough, shutting off immigration is to cut off lifeblood, our own nose.
But Japan remains one of the richest countries in the world and has kept this up through, what, 30 years of “decline”?
Nevada County should be familiar with a stalled population, hovering a little under 100,000 residents for a couple of decades now. We can see the pros and cons, the effects of an aging population, how a local economy changes, the wealth that lingers, the sharp division of haves and have-nots.
Or maybe not, at least in Truckee since the pandemic set in. The ski town led the way in the county that led California in growth rate in 2020, exceeding Austin by percentage in catching that exodus from San Francisco, a place residents really did flee.
Me, I’m not so fearful of equilibrium, and it wouldn’t matter if I were. In the long tail of history, that’s where this all goes. It’s the only promise. Yesterday, it seems, California. Today Texas. Tomorrow? Why does my mind’s eye conjure a wheel, turning?
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299.
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