Europe’s future in California’s demographic crystal ball

Europe’s future in California’s demographic crystal ball

Many a social critic in recent years has reached the conclusion that America’s second largest city is destined for dystopia: Its declining economy, transient immigrant population and eroding education levels are unsustainable.

That may yet prove the case. But just back from a visit to America’s second largest city, an equally compelling case could be made that Los Angeles is the laboratory for the future. Los Angeles’ challenges to confront a revolution in cultural demographics are a foreshadowing of what’s in store for Amsterdam or Berlin – or even the European Union itself.

We’ve all memorized the components of the EU problem, which in so many profound ways complicates Turkey’s relationship with the EU. According to Eurostat, Europe’s half billion population will shrink by 10 percent by 2030, the equivalent of the population of today’s Poland and Greece, without substantial immigration. The source for much of that immigration is logically Turkey, which, while offering hope, also gives many Europeans the shudders as they ponder the “Muslim hordes.”

Every thoughtful European answer to this includes the call for a major initiative to enhance both education and the process of integration. The evidence that this is happening, however, is sparse.

“In virtually no European countries do second-generation migrant children come even close to the school performance levels of people without migration background, even though the former were born in their new home country,” argues just one report on this topic from the Berlin Institute. “In Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands, for instance, children of migrants even have, on average, educational levels lower than those of persons who have just immigrated.”

Which brings me back to the other side of the Atlantic, where the experiment in demographic change management is far more advanced. It is captured in a new analysis by Heather McDonald in the conservative quarterly City Journal,

“In the 1960s, Los Angeles was the most Anglo-Saxon of the nation’s 10 largest cities,” McDonald writes. “Today, Latinos make up nearly half of the county’s residents and one-third of its voting-age population.”

Two ironies bind California and Europe. The first is that integration grows more difficult as immigrant numbers increase. When immigrants are small in number, they rapidly acculturate. As their communities grow, they tend to turn away from the “host” culture. The result is the insular, angry communities of Paris’ banlieues, Berlin’s Kreuzberg or Los Angeles’ Watts.

The second irony is that while immigrants bring ambition and a work ethic, often lacking in their destination countries, they don’t bring high value skills. The result is a fraying of social safety networks and schools at the precise historical moment when those institutions are critical. “Unless Hispanics’ upward mobility improves, the state risks becoming more polarized economically and more reliant on a large government safety net. And as California goes, so goes the nation, whose own Hispanic population shift is just a generation or two behind,” McDonald argues.

And behind that shift is the coming transformation of Europe. It will be led by Turks.