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Minority Populations Drive Growth in Rural California

More than half of California is made up of almost 40 percent Latino residents, making it a majority-minority state. (Latino Outdoors)
More than half of California is made up of almost 40 percent Latino residents, making it a majority-minority state. (Latino Outdoors)
August 7, 2017

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- All but one rural county in California has added population over the past quarter century - and a new report shows that minorities are a big part of that boom.

Analysts from nonpartisan research firm Headwaters Economics looked at census data from 1980 to 2015 across the West and found that 99 percent of counties saw an increase in Hispanics, other people of color and foreign-born residents. Kelly Pohl, researcher and policy analyst and a co-author of the report, said Sierra County, north of Lake Tahoe, lost 2 percent of its total population - but an influx of minority residents has been a stabilizing force.

"In places where overall population is decreasing, minorities are slowing that trend of shrinking communities, and helping to sustain local economies and keep school districts open,” Pohl said.

As of 2014, Hispanics became the largest ethnic group in the Golden State, which now has the sixth-largest economy in the world. All but one of California's rural counties are growing, many due to an increase in outdoor recreation and tourism.

Calaveras County's total population is up 116 percent, with many newcomers working at the dozens of newly legal marijuana growing operations that have popped up in recent years.

Pohl said that minority families are particularly beneficial to towns with an aging general population.

"Because minority populations tend to be younger on average than non-Hispanic white populations, they inject youth and cultural diversity and economic vitality into places, some of which would otherwise be shrinking,” she said.

California is home to more than 15 million Latinos, but the state has always had a significant Hispanic and Native American population.

Suzanne Potter/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - CA