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View from Lodi, CA: Celebrate Diversity - Ignore Poverty
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August 16, 2002, 05:00 AM
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We must celebrate diversity. We must embrace diversity. We must sing the praises of diversity.

The only thing we must not do is engage in an open, honest accounting of the pros and the cons of diversity.

Without a doubt, the transformation of America into a multicultural society is one of the most compelling stories of our generation. Immigration`s impact on the U.S. during the last four decades is unprecedented.

Still, we can`t get a solid accounting from the media of the pluses and minuses of the record inflow of immigrants to America. Instead, we`re badgered to "celebrate" and "embrace" but never to question.

In his July 14 column "Words that mean a lot", Denver Post columnist Al Knight suggested that the phrase "celebrate diversity" be retired from print. The phrase has been used so often, according to Knight, that it has no meaning. Worse, says Knight "celebrate diversity" has become "a poor substitute for thought on all levels."

Stories about diversity have common denominators. They are set at a weekend festival or an ethnic restaurant. "Diverse" people will be enjoying the food, the music and the games. Some academic will say: "Our strength is our diversity." And the organizers will chime in, "I would never have guessed that so many people would turn out."

On August 11, The Record (Stockton, CA.) ran a front-page, above-the-fold story titled "Reflection of Diversity." The story, by Julie Davidow (jdavidow@recordnet.com) was based on the findings of the Public Policy Institute report, "Who`s Your Neighbor: Residential Segregation and Diversity in California."

The story is set at Chapala`s Restaurant where whites, blacks, Latinos and Asians are devouring huge numbers of burritos and combo plates. Using the comings and goings of the multicultural customers as background, Davidow goes on to detail Stockton`s high ranking among cities with more than 200,000 residents. Stockton, with a Diversity Index of 76 is second to Sacramento with an index of 81.

Despite Stockton`s high ranking, it could even be higher according to one of the report`s co-authors, Hans P. Johnson. Stockton`s Diversity Index, according to a complex formula found in the report`s introduction, could be a state-high 87.

The Record`s story treated the Diversity Index in the same way that the sports page analyzes batting averages: higher is better. Stockton is close to the top of the chart; ergo, Stockton is a great place to live.

That assumption, strongly implied in the story, may or may not be true. But many factors are at play in the Diversity Index game that weren`t commented on.

Quality housing is in short supply in California. And affordable quality housing is almost impossible to find. People have fewer choices about where they will live. They may prefer to live in a different neighborhood than the one they end up in. 

In some ways, "Who`s your neighbor?" is a non-starter. The conclusion that neighborhoods are becoming more diverse is hardly startling given the immigration and birth patterns in California. Every year California has 650,000 new residents. The majority are immigrants and the children of immigrants. Caucasian birth rates are flat. What other outcome could there be in analysis of local community diversity?

As one who searches (in vain) for a deeper look at the subplots of more diversity, I wondered why an earlier report published by the same think-tank, the Public Policy Institute of California, and authored by one of the same researchers, Hans P. Johnson, didn`t get a mention in most California papers.

Actually, I didn`t spend too much time wondering why "Trends in Family and Household Poverty" [PDF] wasn`t covered on the front page and above the fold. The findings paint a grim picture of recent California immigrants and their income pattern.

According to the P.P.I.C., poverty in California has risen in five of the six household types—married, no children; married with children; single parent with children; other family; non-family and live alone. Across the nation, however, poverty has declined in five of six categories.

California`s poverty rates have increased much faster than other states and are 1.3 times higher than in the rest of the country.

While the P.P.I.C. found that poverty and economic conditions are linked in 49 of 50 states, California is unique.

The report`s introduction states that in California,

"long-term trends indicate that increases in poverty are more than temporal changes due to business cycles."

In California, according to the report,

"the growing proportion of households headed by less-educated, often immigrant, adults explains much of the increase [in poverty]."

If increased poverty and wage disparity is a direct consequence of increased diversity, as the P.P.I.C. found, then that`s a valid topic for intelligent analysis.

If someone could explain to me what we gain by reporting only half the story, I will be forever indebted.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.