The 2010 United States Census will provide relatively accurate new data on the state of the Black population in California. On the heels of that data presentation, here is the profile of Blacks in the state essentially between 2000-2010. Change has already come for that population. Are Black folks ready for the next step higher, or will they merely fall back lower? Whichever way the path leads, let’s be clear–choices made or neglected by the Black community had as much, if not more, to do with where Black Californians are and where they are going than the relentless microracisms, fate, or just plain bad Black luck that have also interacted within the Black Experience.
According to the California section of the 2000 U.S. Census, the African American population decreased by more than 40,000 persons between 1990 and 2000 (although part of that decrease was caused by the change in the counting method), and is projected to decline again through 2010, particularly in the larger urban centers. San Francisco is already a prime example of this trend, and so is Los Angeles County.
It can be argued that the “quality of life glass” for African Americans is less than half full or more than half empty–we are either a lot less close to heaven than we want to be or a lot closer to the hell that sizzles our feet than we deserve to be–in 21st century California. The pretty weather and the Hollywood fantasies cannot obscure the fact that, as a combination race and ethnic group of significance in this state, we are in very deep trouble. The ‘race-neutral’ era ushered in by Prop 209 and the election of President Barack Obama did not create our chronic difficulties, those political events merely greased our slide. Currently, at least according to the census data, to an incessant drumbeat we are marching ourselves into 21st century obsolescence and irrelevancy in California. Can we be saved? More importantly, can we save ourselves, or is our fate sealed already?
In California, Who Are We?
African Americans in California, according to the 2000 U.S. Census and its various revisions and enhancements (2003, 2005, 2006), are those who are phylogenetically colored, report themselves on the census forms as African Americans, or are reported on those forms by others. They are identified as Black or African American only, not including the multiracial categories (which, if added, contribute another 350,000 Black residents) on the census forms. They are either native born Americans residing in California, or naturalized citizens from the African continent, the Caribbean, Central America, or other areas.
This group has an estimated total population of 2,300,000 individuals residing in California, which constitutes 6.7 percent of the total state population, and both in real numbers and percentages, in moving towards 2010 and beyond, that population is projected to be in discernible decline. African Americans in California have the lowest recorded median income statewide of the four major racial/ethnic groups in California ($35,000); the highest poverty rate (22.5 percent); the highest unemployment rate (12 percent); the lowest labor participation rate (59.5 percent); the lowest number of recorded business ownerships in the state (79, 115, as opposed to 336,400 for Latinos); and the lowest rate of home ownership coupled with the highest rate of apartment rentals (38.9 percent and 61.1 percent–Latinos have 44 percent and 56 percent, and Asians have 55 percent and 45 percent). The underwater mortgages have changed this configuration already.
Four out of ten African American adults in California already have or will have cardiovascular disease complications, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and congestive heart failure. Black Americans have the highest incidences (and the most annual deaths from) high blood pressure and diabetes, and they possess the state’s highest proportion of HIV/AIDS. African American men have the highest state proportion of prostate cancer and Blacks own the second highest rate in the state for overall cancer deaths.
Most African American children in California live with a single parent or grandmother, with only 34 percent of the children still living with a married family.
Most of the Black children in California are born out of wedlock (birth rate for unmarried women is 38 percent and for married women, 22 percent). The number of Black children in foster care is hovering over 30,000.
The life expectancy of a Black person in California is 71.5 years, while Latinos are 82.5 years and Asians 83.7 years. African Americans have the highest rate of infant mortality of the four major racial/ethnic groups (11.6 percent); the highest adolescent mortality rate (81.2 percent); and the highest homicide rate (8.4 ; Latinos are 3.5 and Asians are 3.4. Whites are 1.6). Blacks go to jail and prison more often than any other group and are sentenced more harshly for both misdemeanors and felonies.
There are other sobering statistics, but these make the point decisively: While some of us are clearly enjoying a higher standard of living, too many of us in California during this first decade of the 21st century are still at the negative extremes of most of the indicators of a quality level of life. California is the “richest” state in the country, but over half of the African Americans residing here do not seem to enjoy daily lives that reflect that status. After substantially more than 159 years in this state, we are still at the bottom of too many measurements of decent living. That puts African Americans in California in a state of crisis which demands that we either dig deep and pull ourselves out, or acquiesce to obsolescence in the 21st century.
Where Are We?
Out of California’s 478 legally incorporated cities, there is a discernible African American population in 326 of them, discernible here meaning above one percent. Thus, the California African American population:
(A) Is not in 152 cities at all (0-1 percent)
(B) Is in 108 cities with no more than two percent of each municipality’s population (1-2 percent).
(C) Is currently centered in no more than 57 cities with an African American population of at least 10 percent. These 57 cities represent over 80 percent of the total African American population in California, and include 28 cities with an African American residential population of between 10-14 percent; 6 cities between 14-15 percent; 12 between 15-20 percent, and 11 cities with an African American population of over 20 percent.
(D) Is skewed towards Southern California, where one city-Los Angeles- contains over 415, 195 African Americans, or nearly 20 percent of California’s total African American population.
Out of California’s 58 counties, 17 have no discernible African American residents, 15 have only 1-2 percent African American population, and less than half (26) have from 4-15 percent. Only two, Alameda and Solano (and Solano has a much smaller overall population) have an African American percentage rate above 10 percent. Tables 3 and 4 display the California counties with the largest African American populations by percentage, and by actual population. The 20 counties with the highest percentage of African Americans, and the 15 counties with the largest residential populations represent over 90 percent, respectively, of the African American population.
In essence then, Los Angeles County and the city of Los Angeles represent the largest population of African Americans in the state, Southern California is the dominant geographical area for that population, and African Americans are not evenly spread over California. The population is in very discernible pockets and urban areas.
David Horne, Ph.D., is executive director of the California African American Political Economic Institute (CAAPEI) located at California State University, Dominguez Hills.
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