For a closer glimpse of what's in store for California, look at the Los Angeles Unified School District, the largest in California and the second largest in the country. Of its roughly 700,000 students, almost three-quarters are Hispanic, 8.9 percent are white, and 11.2 percent are black. More than half of the Latino students (about 300,000) are "English learners" and, depending on whether you believe the district or independent scholars, anywhere between a third and a half drop out of high school, following significant attrition in middle school. A recent study by UC Santa Barbara's California Dropout Research Project estimates that high-school dropouts in 2007 alone will cost the state $24.2 billion in future economic losses.
The unhappy picture in Los Angeles is replicated to one degree or another across much of California and is taking a huge toll on the state's economic competitiveness and long-term prospects. California's educational system, once easily the best in the country, is today mired in mediocrity near the bottom among the 50 states as judged by National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests in math, science, reading, and writing. And for the first time in its history, California is experiencing an increase in adult illiteracy. In 2003, it had the highest adult illiteracy in the United States, 23 percent nearly 50 percent higher than a decade earlier. In some counties (Imperial at 41 percent, Los Angeles at 33 percent) illiteracy approaches sub-Saharan levels.
Perhaps even more important than the collapse of educational achievement among the lower strata is a deterioration of the higher education that was for decades the basis of California's preeminence in science and technology. California currently ranks 40th among the 50 states in college-attendance rates, and it already faces a significant shortage of college graduates. Studies have shown that the economy will need 40 percent of its workers to be college-educated by 2020, compared with today's 32 percent. Given the aging white population (average age, 42), many of these new graduates will have to come from the burgeoning Latino immigrant population (average age, 26). By one estimate, this would require tripling of the number of college-educated immigrants, an impossibility if current trends hold. The state's inability to improve the educational attainment of its residents will result in a "substantial decline in per capita income" and "place California last among the 50 states" by 2020, according to a study by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems
One myth is that because America is a country of immigrants and has successfully absorbed waves of immigration in the past, it can absorb this wave. But the argument neglects two key differences between past waves and the current influx. First, the immigrant population is more than double today what it was following the most massive previous immigration wave (that of the late 19th century). Second, and much more important, as scholars from the Manhattan Institute have shown, earlier immigrants were much more likely to bring with them useful skills. Some Hispanic immigrants certainly do integrate, but most do not. Research has shown that even after 20 years in the country, most illegal aliens (the overwhelming majority of whom are Hispanic) and their children remain poor, unskilled, and culturally isolated they constitute a new permanent underclass.