SACRAMENTO (AP) — State demographers estimate that whites and Latinos are now an equal share of California's population, with Latinos poised to become a plurality by early next year.
Latino leaders planned a modest rally Monday at the state Capitol to mark the milestone, which researchers at the state Department of Finance had previously projected would be achieved mid-year.
"At this point, the numbers are very, very close," said Bill Schooling, head of the demographic research unit of the State Department of Finance. He said officials do not plan to estimate the exact date when Latinos begin overtaking whites, but they are expected to become the state's largest ethnicity in early 2014.
Whites and Latinos each comprise about 39 percent of California's population after a long-running demographic shift that already has altered state politics, the economy and culture.
Monday's rally was intended to mark the occasion and remind state lawmakers of Latinos' increasing clout, said Orlando Fuentas, president of the Latino Democratic Club of Sacramento.
"We want to recognize this momentous change by acknowledging the responsibilities that lay ahead for our community at large as well as our state," Fuentas said in a statement.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Monday that dramatically changes the way California funds its public schools, including directing more money toward districts with a high proportion of students who are not proficient in English. At a news conference after the signing, Brown was asked to comment about the state's shifting demographics.
"That's part of the dynamism of California," he said. "It's a great opportunity, and this bill, by directing more money toward low-income families, families where English is not spoken, will respond to the various challenges."
In the new year, California is expected to become the second state, behind New Mexico, in which Latinos are the largest racial or ethnic group.
The state estimates that in 2020, Hispanics will account for 40.7 percent of California's population while whites will make up 36.6 percent. In 2030, the population is projected to be nearly 44 percent Hispanic and about 34 percent white.
In 2060, Hispanics will make up 48 percent of the population compared with 30 percent for whites, according to state projections. Blacks are expected to slip from nearly 6 percent in 2010 to just more than 4 percent by 2060, while the Asian population, now just below 13 percent, may grow slightly.