Immigration is Not Driving California’s Economy

In a recent op-ed, Raoul Lowery Contreras argues that California is home to America’s most formidable economy and “immigration is the reason why.”

California’s economic success, Contreras claims, is due to an increasingly well-educated and “highly productive” Latino workforce. “The days of highly uneducated Mexicans is evaporating before our eyes,” writes Contreras, citing decreasing high school dropout rates between 2000-2015 as proof of progress. But using dropout rates as a metric for educational achievement, and thus substantive economic productivity, is misleading.

Even as graduation rates in California among Latinos improve, proficiency in English and math range from problematic to dismal. The Education Trust-West, a progressive education watchdog, reports that as of 2017, “[t]here is not a single county in California where the majority of Latino students are proficient in math or English language arts.” In Los Angeles County:

the percentage of Latino students who were proficient in math was less than half the percentage of white students who were proficient. There was a difference of 30 percentage points between Latinos (27 were proficient) and white students (57 percent). . . . Latinos statewide posted no growth on this year’s state tests — 17 percent were proficient in math, slightly lower than in 2016, and 26 percent were proficient in English.

L.A. Unified attributes the anomalous decrease of Latino dropouts, despite troubling educational achievement, to “culturally inclusive curriculum.” That is to say, lowering the standards of learning has created a Potemkin village of educational achievement for Latinos in California.

“Congratulations to districts everywhere. You’ve rendered high school diplomas meaningless by replacing even the slightest attempts at academic rigor with academic garbage,” writes a high school teacher to the Los Angeles Times. “My school boasts a graduation rate of over 85% while producing less than 40% who are college ready.”

Contreras is evidently fine with lowering the bar for Latinos, so long as it satisfies his bias. Indeed, L.A. Unified formally lowered the bar in 2015, through a proposal that allows students to receive a D “in college-prep classes to graduate [from high school] and be eligible to apply to four-year state universities.” California also improved its graduation rates by making the high school exit exam easier, then eliminated it outright.

“L.A. Unified raised its graduation rate from a projected 52 percent to more than 80 percent within a few months, largely through reliance on online credit-recovery courses that allowed students to pass various chapter units without even watching the lectures or reading the material,” writes Karin Klein in the Sacramento Bee. This is California’s unofficial affirmative action culture at its best.

This “better educated [but not really] Mexican-origin Californian is highly productive,” writes Contreras, “so much so that California’s workers are the most productive and best paid in the United States with only one exception: New York.” Citing the PPIC again, Contreras writes that “the average California worker took home an income 9.7 percent higher than the national average in 2006.” This is another misleading claim, and for what I would think are obvious reasons.

“While incomes are high in California, goods and services are 13% more expensive than on average nationwide—a higher cost of living than in any state other than New York and Hawaii,” writes research analyst Evan Comen. Thus, higher income is offset by higher cost of living. In fact, when accounting for cost of living, California has the highest rate of poverty of all states, while Latinos happen to constitute California’s greatest number of poor or near-poor. In 2014, the California Senate Office of Research reported that from 2006 to 2010, “Latinos tended to earn less than Californians as a whole and were underrepresented among higher income brackets, overrepresented at lower income brackets, and more likely to live in poverty.” The CSOR data show that while 14 percent of Californians lived in poverty, that number was 20 percent among Latinos.

Contreras then claims that because “the California median income for immigrant families is higher than of all families” in selected Southern and Midwestern states, then surely this must be proof of Latino immigrant prosperity. Right? Wrong.

There are around 1.3 million impoverished Latino children in California, and they constitute the state’s greatest number of impoverished children for any demographic. In 2015, around 80 percent of Latino households headed by noncitizens fell below nonprofit United Way’s “Real Cost Budget” level of economic distress. The Real Cost Budget factors in the costs of affording rent, child care, medical, health and transportation; 80 percent of Latinos in California fall below that line and into economic distress. Joel Kotkin writes in the Orange County Register, “Poverty and near-poverty are greatest among Latinos, who also are bearing the majority of children.” In the greater Los Angeles area alone, where legal and illegal aliens are concentrated, “some 54 percent [of Latinos] can be counted poor or near-poor, the highest proportion of any California region.”

California’s economy, then, is “booming” not because of a multitude of low-skill service jobs, like those Latinos immigrants are overrepresented in, but rather the skilled and high-tech industries. This reality is reflected in the millions of middle class families that have fled the state, as cost of living and quality of life worsen. “[Progressives] allege that this is balanced out by a surge of highly educated workers coming to California,” writes Kotkin. “Essentially, the model is that of a gated community, with a convenient servant base nearby.” That is, a servant base in the immigrant population. Indeed, “though [Latinos] will make up 40 percent of the state’s working-age population by 2020,” writes Heather Mac Donald, citing PPIC data, “just 12 percent of them are projected to have bachelor’s degrees by then.” Perhaps opening with, “Facts leave this cabal [of immigration critics] with very little foundation to criticize,” was a mistake by Contreras.

Apart from sheer misinformation, Contreras’ op-ed is littered with thinly veiled attacks against whites, whom he refers to as the sinister “acolytes” of an immigration critic “cabal.” This is a man so obsessed with ethno-racial conflict that, in his mind, brown and white are immiscible. All critics of immigration are sinister whites, and Latinos are not Americans but “Mexican-origin Californians” in competition with whites.

Like Gustavo Arellano and Lizbeth Mateo, Contreras is content with California’s nosedive into lawlessness and poverty, so long as Latinos are running the show.

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Photo credit: David McNew/Getty Images

About Pedro Gonzalez

Pedro Gonzalez is assistant editor of American Greatness and a Mount Vernon Fellow of the Center for American Greatness.

Photo: LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 14: Students from numerous area high schools walk out of class to protest march and near City Hall against the upset election of Republican Donald Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton in the race for President of the United States on November 14, 2016 in Los Angeles, California, United States. The mostly Latino youth walked out of class to protest because they are afraid that their families could be split up through mass deportations of millions of immigrants, as promised by Trump during his campaign. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

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