Go home to Ohio, LeBron James.
Yes, I’m happy to see the world’s greatest basketball player join my favorite team, the Los Angeles Lakers. But as a Californian, I fear he is the last thing our state needs.
His arrival is a high-profile symptom of one of our state’s big problems: California favors older, wealthier outsiders over our younger, homegrown compatriots.
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Comparing James to his new teammate, guard Lonzo Ball, demonstrates the problem. James, 33, just received a $154 million, four-year contract to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and revive the Lakers. As a free agent mercenary, he has company. A Stanford study shows that, despite high taxes, the Golden State attracts more millionaires than it loses. The trend also holds among the upper-middle-class. People who move to California have more education and income ($110,000 annually or more) than the average Californian.
But the state has been struggling to develop and retain younger, homegrown Californians – such as Ball, a 20-year-old from the Inland Empire. There is a net outflow of younger people – especially those who make less than $55,000 a year, don’t have college degrees (Ball only attended UCLA for one year), or want to start families – to Texas, Arizona and other states.
Ball, too, may be on his way out; the sports media say he could be traded for older, proven players whom James prefers. This makes sense in 2018, when LeBron is far superior to Lonzo, but not necessarily in the long term.
James is old for a pro athlete and could be injured and in decline when his contract expires in 2022. In contrast, if Ball realizes his potential, he could win games for the Lakers into the 2030s.
While I’ll leave the basketball debate to sports experts, in the larger context of California’s future, the Lonzos are indisputably more important than the LeBrons.
That’s because so many more of us are Lonzos. This represents a sea change. From the Gold Rush until 2010, we were mostly a state of people who migrated here from another state or country. As a state, we were like the Lakers, dependent on stars from elsewhere, like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal.
But after a steep fall in immigration, now more than 54 percent of Californians were born and raised here. Millennials, including Ball, are projected to be our first generation that is majority homegrown.
With this shift, California needs to develop and educate its own citizens, instead of relying on people from someplace else. We desperately need our Lonzos to succeed. Too many haven’t. Some leave the state. Others contribute to our highest-in-the-nation poverty rate. Education levels have stagnated among California’s young, a huge problem since they will have to be more economically productive to support our aging population.
Yes, California’s LeBrons help subsidize the Lonzos with their taxes. But the LeBrons also retard the growth of the young and push up the price of housing. They are also less innovative, since younger people are responsible for most inventions. And California’s Lonzos are far more loyal; they are about three times more likely to settle in California as adults and more supportive of taxing themselves to support public programs.
So root for LeBron if you like. But don’t forget that the future of California depends on more people like Lonzo.
Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.