* Immigration, education keys for California
* Well-being in Watts' finally hits mid-1960s L.A. levels
* Latino paradox -- long lives but low income, education
By Peter Henderson
SAN FRANCISCO, May 19 Perennial trend-setter
California still represents potential aspects of the future of
the United States, ranging from wealth and opportunity in
Silicon Valley to abject poverty in the agricultural Central
The Golden State has always seen itself as the best, and it
still is for some, but a new study of federal census and state
data covering longevity, education and income shows the state
is also home to arguably the worst-off parts of the nation.
Its diversity, continued attraction to immigrants, and a
fast-changing economy that is still the world's eighth largest
make it a harbinger for the globe as well as the nation,
according to the study released this week.
"Some Californians are actually enjoying the highest levels
of well-being in the world, where the rest of the world won't
be for another half-century," said Kristen Lewis, one of the
authors of "A Portrait of California."
But the report by the American Human Development Project,
which uses United Nations-based indicators of health, wealth
and education rolled into a Human Development Index score, also
sheds light on less fortunate parts of the state.
The Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts, which exploded in
riots in 1965, only now scores at levels enjoyed by the rest of
the county that year, while a companion study found the
nation's worst-off congressional district to be in Fresno,
California -- not the Mississippi Delta or Appalachia as
researchers had expected.
The reputation of the most populous U.S. state as home of
the good life has been tarnished as the mortgage crisis
stripped families of homes, while the state's financial
problems have undermined the education system and sense of
opportunity that gave California its glittering reputation.
Many of the contrasts in the state, which after all has
inspired "Grapes of Wrath" Depression-era tales as well as
Disneyland, are tied in some way to education and immigration.
PAY AND EDUCATION
Education and income tend to go hand in hand, but some of
the longest-living Californians are Latino immigrants at the
bottom of the pay and education scales -- whose native-born
children die earlier.
"The longer Latinos live in the United States, the shorter
they live," Lewis said.
The report breaks down the state into "Five Californias."
They range from the affluent towns of Silicon Valley, such as
Cupertino, home to Apple Inc, and Mountain View, where Google
Inc is based, followed by well-off metropolitan coastal
A group of mostly minority citizens in California's suburbs
and exurbs make up the middle class, or about 40 percent of the
population. An equally large group that also includes rural
areas is labeled "Struggling California." Both are trying to
fit into a state that wants highly skilled or unskilled labor,
without much demand in the middle.
"All over the U.S., the labor market is diverging, and it's
creating an hourglass shape," Lewis said.
A "Forsaken" 5 percent, whose life expectancy is nine years
less than those at the top and who tend to live in impoverished
neighborhoods in Los Angeles and the farming-dependent Central
Valley, make up the bottom stratus in the state.
In the San Francisco Bay Area town of San Ramon, only 2.6
percent of adult residents did not finish high school, compared
with 63.3 percent in the Vernon Central area of Los Angeles.
The top and bottom groups have one thing in common: a third
of each was born outside the United States. But while the top
demographic features engineers from Asia, the bottom contains
mainly Latinos with a high school education or less.
Measures of state public education have dropped because of
the financial crisis to the point where California in some ways
now ranks 49th to 51st against other states and the District of
"California is really losing its edge in terms of
education," said Lewis.
But the statistics don't necessarily tell the whole story
-- many Latino immigrants drag down the state average because
they cut short their education to come to California, but their
children are hitting state norms.
(Reporting by Peter Henderson; Editing by Eric Walsh)