Go Ahead, Hit Play: Casey’s New Podcast Tackles Race, Immigration and Inequality
The data is clear: Life’s playing field isn’t level — and America isn’t the land of equal opportunity.
In the Foundation’s new podcast, sociologist Manuel Pastor explores these facts while injecting his definitive voice into our country’s deep discussions about race, income inequality and the future of America.
Hosted by Lisa Hamilton, Casey’s vice president of external affairs, the podcast covers a lot of ground. Some conversation points include:
- The impact of generational gaps on public investments.
- Trends and misconceptions about immigration.
- How suburban America is changing.
- Why income inequality is bad for our economy.
- The vital role that kids of color will play in our nation’s future.
- Bright spots in our country’s current discourse on race and equality.
The 27-minute conversation marks the launch of CaseyCast, a monthly podcast devoted to bringing people together to help build a brighter future for kids, families and communities.
About Manuel Pastor
Manuel Pastor is a professor of sociology and American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California (USC). He studies the economic, environmental and social conditions facing low-income urban communities and the social movements that are calling to change these conditions.
Pastor currently directs USC’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity and Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration. He is also the founding director of the Center for Justice, Tolerance, and Community at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
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In 2016, the country is deeply engaged in conversations about race and economic inequality. While these issues are in the headlines today, community leaders, practitioners and advocates have been working to eliminate the effects of these issues on kids and families for decades. To support their work, the Casey Foundation's Kids Count Project shares data on how all children in the United States are faring and in 2014, we issued a report entitled "Race for Results", which highlighted the significant barriers children of color face by race and by State. Since that report, the Foundation has made it easier for users of our online Kids Count Data Center to find data about kids by race to help inform more focused solutions.
Manuel Pastor is our guest today. He's a leading researcher and champion of racial and economic equity. Manuel is professor of sociology in American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. He also serves as director of USC's program for environmental and regional equity and their center for the study of immigrant integration. He recently co-authored a book entitled Equity, Growth and Community: What the Nation Can Learn from America's Metro Areas. We are so delighted to have him join us today.
Hi Lisa. Glad to be with you.
Welcome to our podcast. Let's start by asking you to talk a bit about the various titles you hold at USC. You seem to work at the intersection of a number of different issues. Could you talk a bit about the relationship between race and place?
Yes. I am, as you mentioned, in two different academic departments and I run two different research centers. I also hold an endowed chair in civil society and social change. The fact that I have five jobs probably reflects the fact that I'm the son of immigrants and too many jobs seems to be characteristic for many strivers, I suppose. Really the thing that animates all of the work is this vision of justice and opportunity. I've long been committed since I was young person and watching my own parents struggle with the challenges of racism. The challenges of immigration status and certainly the challenges that were placed on them by being working class folks about how do you get ahead, how do you create opportunity, etc and so I've really long been animated by basically social justice concerns.
Our program for environmental and regional equity works on the issues of environmental justice and the fact that hazards are disproportionately in low-income communities of color. Something illustrated so dramatically in recent days by what's been going on in Flint, Michigan and the way in which that community in it's cries for attention are essentially ignored by the State until the problem became so critical that now it's finally being addressed. We also work on the issue of regional equity. It's a fact that many low income communities of color are disconnected from the thriving sectors of the regional economy and we try to go beyond the traditional debates about place versus people and think more about how to make low income communities and communities of color an important part of the conversations about regional futures, which is really what that new book, Equity, Growth and Community is about.
The third arena in which we work is immigrant integration. Looking at not just the questions of immigration, how people arrive, but how they do over time, how their children do over time. The one big theme however that links those three issues: the environmental justice, the regional equity and the immigrant integration issues is social movements. One of the things that we've really realized, is that you've got to be able to not just study an issue, but to be able to move the needle and change what's going on if it's a negative thing. Really what does that are social movement organizations, community based organizations and the way in which they change the narrative, change the balance of power, etc. One thing that we tell ourselves, particularly in our research centers, and I think this is a little bit different than most academics, is that we don't change the world. We work with people who change the world. We understand that we're providing research to social movement organizations that can actually make things better.
You mentioned change in your description and America is certainly undergoing a lot of change today. We are becoming an increasingly more diverse country, particularly in our child population. How would you describe this impending demographic shift?
What our picture to the well known fact is that the United States will become a majority people of color by the year 2043/2044. Actually, more significant, at least in my view, is that about 10 or 11 years before, 2031, 2032, 2033, in there, the workforce will be majority people of color. I didn't say the majority the entrants into the workforce, that's already happening because of young people who are turning 18 and 19 and also because of immigrants who come into the workforce, but the majority of the workforce. Why? Because the white population is older, will be retiring and what that means is that when we talk about diversity and economic change and children, we're not simply talking about thinking about that from a sense of moral values around inclusion and justice and fairness. Those things should animate us. We're also talking about the future workforce of the United States and unless we make the kind of investment in children and in the workforce going forward, we're not going to have a strong economy.
When I speak about the demographic shifts, I'm not only thinking about the inclusion issues that are out there, but the economic issues that are out there and how do we invest in the future. One really interesting thing, though, is to understand that the demographic change that the US is facing between 2020 - 2050 is basically the demographic change that California faced between 1980 and 2000. The US is going from about being two thirds white right now to being more than 50% people of color. By the year 2050, that's really what California went through between 1980 and 2010, California is America fast forward. That 20 years of demographic change in California was marked by tremendous conflict around immigration, affirmative action, generational disconnection. That's what's unveiling in the rest of the country right now, particularly in this electoral season. The interesting thing is that the demographic change in California is dramatically slowing down and really the demographic change, the diversity is coming to a theater near you and the rest of the country.
You mentioned a term called generational disconnection. Could you talk a bit about this simultaneous graying and browning of America?
Yeah. The fascinating thing to me about the demographic change is looking at the age structure. In the United States right now, the median age, half older, half younger for non-Hispanic whites is 44 years. The median age for Asian Pacific Islanders is 35. For African Americans, 32. For Native Americans, around 30. For Latinos, 27. That gap of 44 to 27 helps to explain our demographic change because 27 is prime family formation age. Forty-four is generally considered older although many people are still having children these days at that age. It also helps to explain our political gap because the State, for example, the United States has got the largest racial generation gap. The whitest old, the brownest young, is Arizona. A place that's seen fractious politics around immigration and ethnic studies in the school, but is also a State which, in the last five years, has had the third largest, per capita, cuts in K-12 spending. It's also had the largest reductions in public university spending percentage wise on universities.
You begin to see in these places where there's a big demographic gap between the old and the young. A sense in which the older generation doesn't see itself in the younger generation and a withdrawal of public investment. That's certainly actually the California story, too. Our generation gap, again because our demographics are ahead of the rest of the country, began to begin widening ... separating in the late 1970's, early 1980's. That was the era in which we had prop 13 which was an attempt to protect property taxes for older Californians from being tapped into for the needs of the other Californians. That's beginning to slow in California. We've seen some change now in the way that we're taxing ourselves. In the way that we, with prop 47, beginning to address our over incarceration crisis, but the rest of the country faces a big generation gap and you can't change that by changing the demographics. We need to change that by changing the narrative and helping the older generation see itself more in the younger generation and part of that is recognizing that the workers of the future, the producers of the future, the folks who are going to be chipping into social security and medicare and keeping those systems solvent, it's this younger cohort of color which is both coming into working age and moving into prime working age. Unless we're making the investments to make sure that that younger generation is productive and not over incarcerated, it's working at full speed and not threatened by deportation, we're not going to be able to have a thriving American economy moving forward.
We've talked a bit about the shifting demographics for children and adults of color overall, but I'm wondering, are there any similar shifts happening in immigration and if there are, what that means for communities that are hoping to integrate them successfully.
The fascinating thing about immigration is that it's a field in which there are many facts and they seem to be gleefully ignored in the public debate. The flow of immigrants into the country is actually slowing down and that actually has many demographers and economists worried because the United States has thrived on having immigrants come in and reanimate our economy. Another big shift; we are now getting more immigrants coming in from Asia than from Latin America.
Another big shift; we actually have negative migration from our traditional biggest sender, Mexico. In the last three, four years, there's more Mexicans returning to Mexico than are actually coming into the United States. Part of that is increased border enforcement, part of that is shifts in the economy in Mexico and United States. The biggest part of it is a long term trend, which is that the fertility rate in Mexico has declined dramatically. The fertility rate used to be that a Mexican woman, 30 - 40 years ago would have about five children over the course of her lifetime. Now the fertility rate in Mexico is 2.3. The fertility rate in the United States is 1.7. As those two come together, less of a long term push factor.
The final big demographic change with regard to immigration is that the undocumented population is on the decline. You wouldn't think that given the current state of electoral hysteria about people coming from Mexico, which by the way, most of the new undocumented are not from Mexico, they're from other locations. These are really the facts. What this means, which is really important, is that well, we've had a big debate about immigration. Immigration is no longer the issue. Immigration is slowing down. Undocumented immigration is actually reversing, etc. The big debate is about how do we integrate the people who are here, because even the undocumented population is now long term settled. Well over half. Some estimates have it at 60% of the undocumented immigrants in the United States, have actually been here for longer than ten years. They're not recent arrivals. They have children. They're deeply embedded into our community. Most of their children are actually US born and what that means is that the task now is integrating immigrants so that they and their children can be more successful and that's a big shift in our thinking because we've traditionally thought about immigration issues as flows rather than thinking about that in terms of mobility over time.
Are there any regional impacts on the immigration integration? Are there new places that people are choosing to settle?
Yeah, that's the fascinating thing as well, which is that new immigrants are getting to go to new locations. California, traditionally a big entry point for immigrants, but a lot of immigrants are either hopscotching over California and going to other States or immigrants who have been here for a while are deciding to move to other States. Big increases, for example, in immigrants in the southern part of the United States and that's a very big difference. The other micro demographic change which people don't pay attention to, but is incredibly important, is the suburbanization of the immigrant population. That is, that we tended to think about immigrants coming into central cities. Many of them still do, but many of them are actually moving directly into suburbs and the suburbs of the United States are actually places where the diversity is increasing more rapidly than it is in the central city. It's also the place for pockets of poverty on the rise.
Why this is important is because many of us who have thought about equity issues, racial change, immigration; we've tended to have an urban, and by that we mean a city strategy. We need to have a suburban strategy as well because many of these new suburban locations are places where there's a civic infrastructure which is weak. There's a social services infrastructure which is weak and underdeveloped and there is a community organizing infrastructure which is weak as well. This is something which we're talking about directly with regard to immigrants, but it's also something that affects our African American community which is increasingly suburbanizing as well. Many people, when they saw, a year and a half ago, what happened in Ferguson rightly thought about police brutality and police community relations. Someone like me thought, isn't it fascinating, Ferguson is a suburb.
It's a classic suburb which has gone from being overwhelmingly white to being overwhelmingly people of color, in that case African American and they've got a very weak civic infrastructure reflected in an under trained police department. They've got a weak social services infrastructure and they certainly had a weak community organizing infrastructure in terms of being able to animate the city government to deal with these concerns of over policing, which in part were there because this is a city government so weak in terms of it's fiscal resources that it turned to fees and fines on it's local populations and that then led to over policing in order to finance itself. This suburbanization thing is something very important for African Americans and Latinos and immigrants. The way I think about it in the California or Los Angeles context is we've always thought in the past, particularly about the San Fernando Valley, which is a suburban area of Los Angeles and the so called valley girl, but now the valley girl is la muchacha el valle and we've got to adjust our suburban infrastructures to be able to reflect our new demographics.
What are communities, both urban and suburban doing to support the vast numbers of kids of color who face lots of challenges, but also helping to support children growing up in immigrant families who need support as well?
I think it's something that we're going to need to a much better job at doing, but I do think that you see some suburban locations beginning to recognize who's there and beginning to make sure that their school systems are oriented for kids who are just learning English. Oriented for kids who are on free and reduced fees for school lunch programs. Beginning to recognize that their child population is changing and beginning to try to redirect school resources to do a better job. It is something that I think is tough for communities to recognize, because it challenges their sense of who they were and who they are. Here in Los Angeles County, we have a council for immigrant integration which was started by the California Community Foundation and it's brought together not just traditional immigrant rights organizers, but people from the Los Angeles Police Department and the LA County Sheriffs, people from the Chamber of Commerce, people from education, etc, to talk about what the best strategies are to integrate immigrants over time in terms of providing the school resources. In terms of providing civic opportunities for parents to engage. In terms of creating different kinds of police community relations, for example, making sure that police are not seen as those who are going to be checking for immigration papers, but rather those who have positive relationships with the community.
I think you find this in some surprising locations, for example, one place that's really led on immigrant integration, perhaps surprisingly to some, is Salt Lake City. There's something there called the Utah Compact which brought together business leaders, civic leaders, immigrant rights leaders to try to create a more civic conversation around immigration. Basically, framed around the idea that if we want strong families, we can't have an anti-immigrant set of policies because so many of our families are immigrant families and so many of our immigrant families are mixed status. They might have somebody who's undocumented, someone who is a lawful permanent resident, someone who's a citizen and so the issue of ... The question of status and documentation is not just something that touches the undocumented themselves, it touches families and when you live in a situation which undocumented individuals feel at risk, that's also a situation in which families and children feel at risk.
Imagine the terror, if they're a US born child, of coming home every day not knowing whether or not your parents, who might be undocumented, are going to have been picked up by immigration and customs enforcement and deported. That kind of stress affects performance in school. It affects their sense of well being and this is one of the reasons why immigrant rights activists and those who are supportive of immigrant integration have been so supportive of the President's executive actions to try to regularize the situation of at least those immigrants who have US born and lawful permanent resident children.
As we began this conversation, Manuel, you talked about the importance of changing the narrative for America to understand the importance of children of color in the future of this country. I'm wondering what bright spots you see? What movement do you see in that narrative changing?
I see a couple of things that I think are really hard, at least to me. One is, there's an increasing acceptance that the current level of inequality that we have in the United States is not only bad for our democracy, it's actually bad for economic health. The Cleveland Federal Reserve did a study looking at metropolitan regions in the United States which demonstrated that those with increased income and equality and increased residential segregation don't grow rapidly over time. The International Monetary Fund did a study looking at international countries and finding that income inequality was damaging for sustaining economic growth.
In our new book that you mentioned - Equity Growth and Community, which I would obviously encourage the listeners to read, is one which we do an economic metric study located in 190 metro regions in the United States and we found out that the ability to sustain employment growth over time was limited if you had a lot of inequality, a lot of residential segregation and a lot of what's called, metropolitan fragmentation, that is, lots of little governments that can't coordinate across the metropolitan level. One bright spot is the idea that income inequality is bad for our economic growth is really, I think, gaining traction and I think that this is something reflected in the presidential campaign.
I think the other big theme gaining traction is that the diversity of America moving forward, that that is our future and I know that there is a reaction to that. We've certainly seen this in the presidential campaign because at least for some candidates, they're really trying to appeal to the fears of an older demographic and people who seem to be worried about immigration, who seem to want to build a wall between our country and our future and to ban Muslims from entering the country, etc. That's an older rhetoric, but if you actually go to business people, when you talk about the increased demography in the future, they understand that those are new consumers, those are new workers, those are new markets for them and they want to figure out how to invest and make that part of the economy successful. I think there's a real opportunity for us to do it.
I guess the final big bright spot that I see is these new movements like Black Lives Matter which are finding new and creative ways to lift up the persistent issues of racial inequality and do it in a way that captures a new generation's interest and reflects a new way to do organizing around these issues. You see the Black Lives Matter organizers doing this, you see the dreamers who lifted up the issue of those who are brought to the United States without papers at an early age, but essentially grew up in this society and are Americans in everything but official papers. They've done a lot of creative organizing, motivated a new generation, moved the debate, etc, and so I'm really animated by what our young people are doing around the issues of race. They're lifting them up sharply. They're lifting them up in ways that make sure that they're not forgotten as part of the conversation. They're also lifting them up in a way that captures people's attention and give us positive and creative ways to move forward.
We are all certain to have continued conversations about this issue. Where can people learn more about you and your work online?
There's two things to do. One is to know my name. Manuel Pastor. You're going to find me and a Spanish poker player. I'm not him. If you find me, the academic, you'll find a lot of our research online.
The second is, we do have a website that's called, by searching for me, you'll find some of the websites of the centers that I direct, but if you also look at growingtogethermetro.org. Again, that's growingtogethermetro.org. That's a website we created for this new book, Equity, Growth and Community, which really makes three points. Equity is good for our economic health. We get there by building community around our different interests at a regional level and three, that that sometimes involves conflict because these issues of race and justice can be difficult and so community organizing is part of moving forward. Conflict is part of coming to collaboration and you can find those lessons and case studies data and you can download the book for free by starting on our website, growingtogethermetro.org.
Thank you so much for joining us today, Manuel.
I want to thank our listeners for joining as well. If you've enjoyed today's conversation, rate our podcast on iTunes to help others find us. To learn more about our podcast and for show notes, visit our website, aecf.org and follow the Casey Foundation on Twitter at @aecfnews. Until next time, I wish all of America's kids and all of you, a bright future.