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What California's 'minority majority' population can teach the nation

A man wears an American flag as he protests Arizona's new immigration law during a rally at Oakland City Hall April 30, 2010 in Oakland, California.
A man wears an American flag as he protests Arizona's new immigration law during a rally at Oakland City Hall April 30, 2010 in Oakland, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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The Census reports that, for the first time, white births were outnumbered by minority births. In a 12 month period that ended last July - whites accounted for 49.6 percent of all births while other minorities together accounted for 50.4 percent.

Overall whites are still the majority in America but the trend is clear: that will change.

This is old news here in California, where whites have been in the minority for sometime.

"From a demographic standpoint it's a major watershed but in California we reached this 30 years ago," says Hans Johnson from the Public Policy Institute in San Francisco.

By 1985, white births stopped being the majority of newborns in the state. At this point, California became the first "minority-majority state," which means if you combine the number of all the minorities they outnumber whites by 20 million.

USC demographer Dowell Myers says this makes California an interesting example for the rest of the nation.

"People don't want to follow California," Dowell says. "They're jealous of California in some respects and they're fearful of California in some respects. But they're foolish if they don't keep a close eye on California and learn from some of our successes and some of our failures."

These trends are leading to a generational split between an older white population and younger minorities.

William Fry, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, says the older generation's Social Security will rely in large part on the productivity of the younger minority generation. He believes that group should be invested in the education of the younger minorities.

But here in California, many students are struggling to access that education.

A state deficit has led to budget cuts in the university system. And that's led to tuition hikes. Frustration over these obstacles to education have turned into protests, marches and even hunger strikes at Cal State campuses across California.

Lower income and minority students have been hit especially hard by these changes.

As for political representation in California, minorities still have a way to go before the legislature reflects the population at large.

Governor Brown and both of California's senators are white. And only 8 out of California's 53 members of Congress are Latino.

When it comes to the number of voters, whites are still the majority. While that group makes up less than half of the state's overall population, whites are 65 percent of likely voters.

Latinos make up a third of California's population but only 17 percent of them are likely to vote, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.