California is the first time in history that such a diverse group of people has been brought together as equals.
There was plenty of diversity in the Roman Empire but if you weren’t a citizen the options were slave or barbarian.
Some 300 languages and dialects are spoken in California’s public schools, according to the University of California Consortium for Language Learning and Teaching.
More than 43 percent of Californians over the age of five speak a language other than English at home -- compared to 18 percent of households nationwide.
According to the US Census Bureau, more than 10.3 million Californians were born in another country, a little more than 27 percent of the state’s population – the highest level in the nation.
Demographic surveys, like the 2010 Census, highlight just how profoundly polyglot the Golden State is.
“The (Census) results reveal a changed — and changing — California. The consequences of the state's demographic shifts are far-reaching, beginning this year with a new political map drawn by a new citizens' commission. In years to come, a growing, changing population will put new demands on infrastructure and public services,” said the Public Policy Institute of California in a special state population section on its website.
While the U.S. Census Bureau parcels out the information it has gathered through the rest of this year – the easier tallies first – its initial data offers a glimpse at how the state is evolving.
There are nearly 4.8 million Asian Californians – almost 13 percent of the population. That’s an increase of 1.1 million – 31 percent from 2000 at which time California already boasted the largest Asian population of any state.
Similarly, California has more Hispanic or Latino residents that any other state, just as it did in 2000 when they represented more than 32 percent of the population, about 11 million persons.
A decade later, there are 14 million Hispanic or Latino Californians – 37.6 percent of the population – a 28 percent increase over 2000.
That’s less than 3 percent lower than the 40.1 percent of California’s white, non-Hispanic residents, 15 million persons. In 2000, whites were 45.5 percent of the population.
African American Californians number 2.2 million down .8 percent from 2000. They represent 5.8 percent of the state’s population and 5.2 percent of the estimated 41.8 million African Americans nationwide.
There are 37.3 million Californians the census found – a 10 percent increase in population since 2000, the lowest growth rate recorded by a census since 1910.
By comparison 92,597 persons lived in California in 1850. Within 10 years the population increased 310 percent to 379,994.
The census figure for California’s total population is 1.2 million less than predicted by the state Department of Finance. The department expected more domestic migration into the state. The census showed more outflow than inflow over the decade.
However, state demographers think the census might have undercounted because none of California’s neighboring states show lower housing vacancy rates. In fact their rates are higher than California’s.
“Where are they migrating to?” asked John Malson, acting chief of the department’s demographic research unit.
“Arizona is really hurting. Nevada has vast tracts of housing in Las Vegas that are empty. Possibly a number of Californians did leave but a lot are still here in housing that wasn’t counted.”
Malson also downplayed the effect of an undercount on federal funding for state programs.
Many programs impacted by the census also have other requirements and, routinely, caps on the amount of money the federal government will send.
“Our review found a lot of caps and with California being the largest state, the limit on the grant size probably isn’t based on population,” Malson said.
The U.S. Census Bureau also conducts an annual American Community Survey, which comes in one-year, three-year and five-year versions. The five-year and three-year versions are not snapshots-in-time. They show the average over their respective periods but are gathered from a larger amount of data than the one-year version.
While more recent census data is not yet available, the 2009 American Community Survey, released in December, offers a more specific – and illuminating look at who California is.
The 2009 survey pegged the state’s population at nearly 37 million.
Of that total, 50.1 percent were male and 49.9 percent female.
However, females represented 50.4 percent of Californians 18 years of age or older and 57.3 percent of those 65 and over.
Projections by the state Department of Finance and other demographers show the highest rate of growth among the young and old.
Roughly 10.5 million Californians are under the age of 18, the 2009 survey found. That’s a comparable total to the census.
Of those under 18, 2.7 million are under 5 years of age, and another 2.5 million between the age of 5 and under 10 years of age.
Nearly 6 million Californians are over 60 years of age – almost 600,000 of them over 85 and 1.4 million between the ages of 75 and 84.
For the three-year average survey ending in 2008, 5.4 million Californians were over 60.
Almost three-fourths of Californians over the age of 65 are white. An average of 43 percent of those over 65 live alone. Nearly 89 percent receive Social Security income.
Some 10 percent of the state's families live below the federal poverty level of $22,350 for a family of four. For the state's more than 4.6 million families with children, 14.5 percent fall into the same category.
The survey also offers more specific information on ethnicity.
For example, 1.2 million Californians are Chinese, slightly more than those who are Filipino.
There are 550,000 Vietnamese, 409,000 Koreans and 279,000 Japanese.
Just over 5 million Californians identify themselves as some other race other than those contained in the survey.
Of California’s Hispanic or Latino population, 84 percent are Mexican - 11.5 million persons in the 2009 survey.
Routinely, the state’s diversity is cited as a reason California is no longer “governable.”
Others see it as an opportunity and a potential to create a more vibrant state.
“Diversity helps provide understanding and sensitivity, the same way a blind person with a proctor or seeing eye dog makes people more sensitive to the disabled,” said Barbara O’Connor, emeritus director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and the Media at California State University, Sacramento.
“But this needs to happen at the nuclear level, at the community level. That’s where we’re going to blend and produce differently structured communities and different ideas, many of which will be innovative and make money. I think we underestimate our people and their imagination and their willingness to learn.”