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The Big Squeeze: The Decline of America's California Dream

Screenshot 2014-08-14 11.53.46

The New York Times explains:

California, shown above, has long been the destination of American dreamers from other states. It no longer plays that role; residents are leaving for greener pastures out East. Today, the state is still pulling in foreign immigrants, but the percentage of American-born transplants has shrunk significantly as more people leave the state. There are now about 6.8 million California natives living elsewhere, up from 2.7 million in 1980.

This graph shows the place of birth for each person living in California during each Census. The gray region at the top shows the percentage of California’s population who were native-born Californians living in California. The gray area at the bottom shows the state’s percentage of foreign born residents. The colorful snakes in between show the domestic birth states of California residents at the time of the Censuses. For example, my 12-year-old father moved from Oak Park, Illinois to Altadena, California in 1929, and this graph shows that in the next year’s Census, he and his fellow Illinois-born Californians outnumbered those from any other American state.

For much of the 20th Century, one of the great perquisites of being an American citizen was that you could move to California.

But, like Yogi Berra’s favorite restaurant, it got so popular that nobody goes there anymore, at least not Americans. (If you’re living in Tbilisi, however, it still seems like a great place to move, along with your cousin’s uncle and his nephew’s extended family)

New Yorkers continue to move to California in sizable numbers, but not the rest of the country.

In the comments to my recent Taki’s Magazine article on the lurid mobbed-up failure of the grandiose 1960s plans for a Beverly Hills Country Club, “Golfing with the Fishes,” Jason Sylvester defends my tendency to write the History of America from a San Fernando Valley-centric perspective:

And, since a good many Southern California stories have been important American stories pretty much since William Mulholland solved L.A.’s water problems in 1913, what might seem ongoing geocentric parochialism on Mr. Sailer’s part to some in Taki’s comment section is simply reality: for the most hopeful, grandest upward part of American history, post WWII America, Los Angeles was the promised land; for the deepest, darkest economic depression of American history, Los Angeles (or anywhere in California, for that matter) was…the promised land.

For a huge swath of Americans from about October, 1929 until the L.A. riots in 1992, California was the place to aspire ending up living in: that’s quite a hell of a run. …

“But the war and the decades-long boom that followed extended the California dream to a previously unimaginable number of Americans of modest means. Here [historian Kevin] Starr records how that dream possessed the national imagination … and how the Golden State — fleetingly, as it turns out — accommodated Americans’ “conviction that California was the best place in the nation to seek and attain a better life.”Benjamin Schwarz in The Atlantic.

America’s America, in other words: the place in this vast, great, grand country where the opportunities were a bit better for the talented, the shrewd, the smart, and the lucky, but most of all for those willing to simply show up and hit it hard for 40 hours a week; where everything was a bit cleaner, a bit sharper, and a lot more up-to-date; where industry flourished with smart people and access to the Pacific Ocean making it almost seem easy (almost), and agriculture a matter of planting a seed – of about any kind – and watch whatever was planted sprout in that rich California loam and climate.

Oh, and did we mention the weather?

It was probably inevitable that California would become so expensive that the standard of living would drop, but immigration policy, especially the American Establishment’s failure to enforce laws on the books, sped up the process enormously of making moving to California an unattractive option for other American citizens.

Most people have strong powers of putting the best face on things, so this squeezing shut of American citizens’ options on the California Dream has come with relatively few protests. People make up explanations about why they don’t miss this freedom that past generations enjoyed …

- Of course I’d much rather move to Phoenix than to Los Angeles — I mean, who doesn’t like 110 degree weather?

- Of course I’d rather move to Portland than to the San Francisco Bay — Six months without sunshine is a very Zen experience, you know?

Without our abilities to rationalize our disadvantages as being all for the best, we’d be less happy.

But as I get older, I become less of a contrarian and more of a counter-contrarian: of course a sunny and mild climate is a good thing.

 
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123 Comments to "The Big Squeeze: The decline of America's California Dream"

  1. Bob says:

    @E. Rekshun

    Yes, but why is that the case? SD County is closer the border.

  2. Jefferson says:

    ““Went from San Diego to Tijuana, quite a contrast.” @JA, the powers that be are trying hard to smooth over that contrast!”

    There are parts of Chicago that look like Tijuana, despite the fact that Chicago is geographically closer to Toronto than it is to Tijuana.

    The master plan is for the Mexicanization of the entire United States, not jus the Southwest.

  3. @Bob

    “Do people even go to bars in California? It’s hard to imagine how you can go to a bar a lot when it’s 75 and sunny all the time. Especially also when you have to drive everywhere.”

    You’re observation is spot-on; there really aren’t many bars in California (although I didn’t realize that until I moved to the MidBest; I used to think it was “America” that lacked bars, but now I know its just California…and for some very good reasons, which you’ve already enunciated.

  4. Jacobite says:Website

    “- Of course I’d rather move to Portland than to the San Francisco Bay — Six months without sunshine is a very Zen experience, you know?”

    That’s exactly right. The sun never shines, it’s expensive, there are scads of Mexicans and Chinese, the water is cold, the snow is wet, you wouldn’t like it one bit. There is no good reason for anyone to come here. Even for a visit.

  5. Anonymous says:

    “California as a whole does not have a high percentage of Blacks, but there are pockets of California that has a lot of Blackness like Compton, Inglewood, Richmond, Vallejo, and Oakland.”

    Incorrect regarding Compton and Inglewood. They have essentially been ethnically cleansed, is predominately Latono’s, and enjoys dramatically lower crime rates.
    Try to keep up.

  6. I’m mortified that I made an apostrophe error. Rest assured, I know the difference betwen your and you’re. Its just a typo (and one I’m apparently not being permitted to edit). Please ignore it.

  7. Jefferson says:

    “Incorrect regarding Compton and Inglewood. They have essentially been ethnically cleansed, is predominately Latono’s, and enjoys dramatically lower crime rates.
    Try to keep up.”

    Compton is 32 percent Black and Inglewood is 43 percent Black. That is still way too Black for my taste and significantly Blacker than the national average which is 13 percent Black.

    You see I live in a zip code where only 2 percent of the population is Black, so for me Compton and Inglewood are Black as hell because I am not used to living in an area that has so much vibrant Sub Saharan diversity.

  8. Non says:

    @Anonymous

    “Incorrect regarding Compton and Inglewood. They have essentially been ethnically cleansed, is predominately Latono’s, and enjoys dramatically lower crime rates.
    Try to keep up.”

    Inglewood and Compton are around 40 and 30 percent black respectively, which is still pretty black, especially by California standards. Both are blacker than Oakland, which is only 25 percent black.

  9. Jefferson says:

    “Inglewood and Compton are around 40 and 30 percent black respectively, which is still pretty black, especially by California standards. Both are blacker than Oakland, which is only 25 percent black.”

    Yeah California is not the South, where cities/towns that are over 30%-40% Black are the norm rather than the exception.

    Any city in the Golden state that is over 30 percent Black or 40 percent Black might as well be Little Africa by California standards.

  10. anonymous says:

    About that graph “Where people who live in California were born”…

    That graph just plots the percentage, so it looks like a square in which the population of California never changes. As there were about 15 million people in CA around 1960 and are now, what, unofficially near 40 million, it would be interesting to normalize the graph by population size at each census.

    The normalized graph (absolute population numbers) should make a pretty interesting wedge growing upward to the right.

  11. anonymous says:

    About Central California and the Cenrtal Coast from Monterey to San Luis Obispo… yes, it’s very rugged terrain and there’s not much there. There weren’t even many roads to the coast until CA 1 was built during WWII. (They say one of those Japanese subs prowling the coast in the first days of the war had to pull into somewhere on the central coast to do some minor repairs and someone was livid that no one was able to reach it before it escaped.)

    Anyhow a big chunk of that land is military reservation:

    Fort Hunter Liggett:

    “…originally comprised 200,000 acres (800 km²), but even at its present size of 165,000 acres (668 km²), it is the largest United States Army Reserve command post.

    …field maneuvers and live fire exercises are performed…

    …evaluate new Army and Marine Corps weapons systems…”

    Created in WWII, now think war games and an Army version of Edwards or China Lake.

    Camp_Roberts:

    “Camp Roberts is host to annual training to almost every California Army National Guard unit and it is also used by the British Army.

    …Demolition of nearly all the World War II-era structures facing US Route 101 began in 2012.”

    It’s good that California has all these military operations to protect us from invasion, is it not so?

  12. @anonymous

    It didn’t seem all that astonishing to me that the 15 or 20 miles of relatively level coastal plain west of UC Santa Barbara are almost completely empty of houses until I went to Bodrum, Turkey, which is fairly similar in climate to Santa Barbara and is similarly a kind of resort for older money respectable affluent folks. For many many miles outside Bodrum, however, every place with a sea view is swarming with summer homes, typically glass fronted white sugar cube-like buildings. There are 17 million people living within 175 miles of of Gaviota, CA, population 35.

    But it’s very rare in Southern California to have a second home near the ocean. It’s much more common to have a second home in the desert around Palm Springs. People in L.A. are always saying things like, “I’ve gotta get down to the desert to get some sun!” while holding their hands in front of their faces to shield their eyes from the glaring Los Angeles sun. The reason people in Los Angeles, a semi-desert city have vacations homes in the real desert is because the Palm Springs area always welcomed development, so it’s slathered in develpment for hundreds of square miles. In contrast, the oceanfront areas of California have resisted development for about 45 years now, so everybody in SoCal assumes it’s perfectly natural not to be able to own a place at the beach, but Germans would think its nuts. Millions of Germans are vacationing on the Mediterranean at this moment in developments that are only occupied about 20% of the year.

  13. anonymous says:

    Then there’s Vandenburg and things that go boom…

    It seems Fort Hunter Ligget was mostly purchased during WWII from William Randolph Hearst. I wonder if much of the California coastal land, that land that you’d expect to see developed, was scooped up by those early California real estate barons (the “Octopus”, and all that) and somehow, with the Depression and WWII they were never able to unload it or develop it before it got locked out of the market? Maybe roads and basic infrastructure (fire hydrants, sewage, drainage and such) were a real problem?

    Tangentially, I believe Monterey Jack cheese was developed by Portuguese farmers on central coast cattle ranches, or so it is claimed. (I’ve also heard it was the standard Roman infantry combat ration, so maybe it goes back aways.)

    In some parts of the US large areas of very desirable land close to urban areas were undeveloped until very recently because the land was part of a large cattle ranch that remained in the family. It wasn’t until the last old lady from the old ranching family died that the ranch was broken up and sold off for taxes. I had the impression that many of the viable ranches in California were located on the coast, because of the way California was developed, largely from the coast inward (not to mention the temperature). On the coast you could easily get to market, not so in a lot of the rest of California in earlier times.

  14. @anonymous

    It’s good that California has all these military operations to protect us from invasion, is it not so?

    The US military (+ civilian DoD) is, in large part, a jobs program, easing pressure on the US job market and artificially lowering the unemployment rate.

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