While quality of life has improved for most racial and ethnic groups in California over the last three decades, non-Hispanic whites and most Asians are still more likely to enjoy better health care, greater education and higher-paying jobs, a study by the Public Policy Institute of California has found.
African-American and Latino populations have narrowed the gap, but continue to live in poorer neighborhoods, where they are more likely to be victims of crime and have less access to health care, according to "A Portrait of Race and Ethnicity in California," the first comprehensive sourcebook comparing how different racial and ethnic groups fare in the Golden State.
The 200-page report from the institute -- a nonprofit San Francisco-based research organization endowed by the late computer giant William R. Hewlett -- is billed as a benchmark for future use by researchers, policymakers and the media.
"We are definitely going to build on it from here, and will hope that the information contained within helps California deal with its diversity and growth," said Belinda Reyes, a research fellow at the institute.
Reyes, the report's primary author, said that while much of the information has been reported before, first-time geographical and ethnic comparisons revealed some surprises.
For example, Southeast Asians, a category that includes refugees from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, tend to trail almost all other ethnic groups in quality of life, bucking the stereotype that Asian immigrants do remarkably well in California."Looking at the different cross groups, it was surprising to see that the outcomes for Southeast Asians did not follow with the Asian population as a whole," she said."They are doing worse almost across the board."
Reyes said that trend was likely due to the fact that Southeast Asians in California tend to be newer immigrants and refugees from political strife in their homelands.
The study tracked education, labor, health and crime for California's major racial and ethnic groups, identified by the authors as Non-Hispanic Whites, Latinos, Asians and African-Americans. It breaks down the state into Southern California, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Farm Belt and the Northern and Mountain counties.
The study is the result of two years of analysis of census statistics and data from various state agencies.
The results track with national minority health care findings. A study released last year by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta found that, although access to health care was lower across the nation for minorities, wide differences in health related indexes were found within ethnic groups when compared state to state.
The CDC report found, for instance, that 17.8% of African-Americans in Minnesota didn't exercise in the previous month, compared with 54.6% of African-Americans in Kansas. Also, 14.3% of whites in the District of Columbia reported high blood cholesterol, compared with 35.2% of whites in Illinois.
"The percentage of Hispanics who reported not being able to see a doctor because of the cost was more than three times higher in Arizona (30.1%) than in Georgia (7.9%)," the CDC report said.
Identifying such differences is important because minorities account for an increasing share of the U.S. population, the CDC report says. Racial and ethnic minority groups constituted 16% of the population in 1970 and 27% in 1998. By 2050, they'll account for nearly half of the population.
The PPIC's California study shows that while the Latino population at least doubled in nearly every county between 1970 and 1998, Latinos continue to have lower high school completion rates than other ethnic groups and have the lowest percentage of adults with health insurance.
Latino leaders say they are not surprised by the findings and hope that the study will lead to positive changes.
"It is time to face up to the fact that California is a Latino state and that the problems of Latinos are the problems of California," said Thomas Saenz, regional council of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.