Doom Averted! Orange
County 2001: Younger, darker and safer than ever
by Mike Males
Illustration by Matt
The 1990s were the Decade of Doom, or
(if you’ll pardon the alliteration) the Decade of Demographic Doom, the 10-year-long
collective scream of reporters, cops, experts and special-interest groups
warning us of the perils of the kids in our midst, of a rising tide of
Adolescent Superpredators, Apple-Bonging Meth-Hopped Stone Killers, Roving
Asian Gangbangers (brazenly driving through Irvine), Lost-Future Latino
Paint-Roller Killers, South County James-Dean Retro Thugs, School Shooters
by the Hundreds (wielding arsenals of BB guns and plastic-pistol key
chains), Uzi-Toting Third Graders (legendary, no confirmed sightings),
Robber Cheerleaders, Slate-Eyed Girl Gangstas, and Murderous Druggie
Progeny From Good Homes.
For those scared of the young, Orange
County’s 2000 census figures must be a harbinger of apocalypse: 25,000 more
teenagers than predicted; 8,000 fewer whites; and 33,000 more Hispanics,
Asians and African-Americans.
This is the world they warned us
about—Sheriff Mike Carona, reporters at the LA Times and The
Orange CountyRegister, and quotable eminencies such as James
Alan Fox and James Q. Wilson. They fanned an incessant drumbeat, predicting
that more youths ("temporary sociopaths," in Fox’s words) bring
"an explosive increase in the amount of crime [and] addiction"
(Wilson). As former UC Irvine dean and Orange County annual surveyor Mark
Baldassare’s cogent Trouble in Paradise reported, fearful whites see
the county’s rising population of color and youth as the prelude to crime
Fleeing these larval Lords of the Flies,
50,000 fewer middle-aged and older whites turned up in Orange County’s 2000
census than expected. Coincidentally, rural Idaho reports record population
But those who ventured past the grim
headlines and charted Orange County’s real changes in crime, violence and drug abuse
over the past three decades should say, "Thank God." Thank God
the graying bailouts are being replaced by responsible younger citizens.
Because as Orange County’s youth population soared to a record 320,000 and
transmogrified from 88 percent Anglo white in 1970 to 56 percent Hispanic,
Asian, Pacific Islander and black today, young folks got better. At the
same time, their mostly white elders got worse. If more and darker kids
bring disaster, the meticulous compilations by state statisticians don’t
Led by an astounding decline of 80
percent in drug-abuse deaths and a 75 percent drop in suicides, Orange
County teens are 60 percent safer from all forms of violent demise today
than they were in the early 1970s, the latest Center for Health Statistics
figures show. In 1999, teens under age 20 constituted only two of the
county’s 220 drug-abuse deaths, seven of its 210 suicides, and four of 104
fatal gun accidents and suicides. Fewer than 1 percent of Orange Countians
treated in hospitals for the effects of heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine
abuse in 1999 were adolescents.
Crime? Back in the 1960s when they
started keeping track, Orange County law-enforcement agencies received
2,000 to 3,000 reports of serious (read: felony) violent and property
offenses per 100,000 citizens every year. The latest 1999 and 2000
law-enforcement reports peg the county’s felony violent and property crime
rate at around 1,200 per 100,000 population—half the level of those
Disneyland days of yore.
How do we account for the fact that
we’re far safer today? Young people. New 2000 statistics released two weeks
ago by the Criminal Justice Statistics Center show Orange County teenage
felony arrest rates dropped 65 percent from the 1970s to the 1990s,
including a 20 percent drop in violent crime. While violent crime arrests
temporarily rose among youth in the early 1990s (generating massive media
paranoia) before falling to record lows, the biggest leap by far was among
their elders. The real Troublemakers in Paradise were older generations,
led by those very white elders purportedly terrified to set foot in today’s
multiracial Santa Ana and Westminster. Drug-abuse deaths tripled, and
violent crime and felony rates more than doubled among Orange Countians
older than 30 over the past three decades.
Naturally, this will not serve the needs
of the powerful, and so the media, law enforcement and craven academic
"experts" whose lush grants make them a little too cozy strove
mightily to confirm public misapprehensions that kids were the mega-menace.
Various luminaries now alternate between sowing more false alarm and trying
to grab undeserved credit for improving trends. But the amazing reality is
that a surging youth population and Orange County’s stunning transition
from the nation’s premier white-flight bastion to one of the largest multiracial
conglomerations in the world turned out not to be traumatic at all. Yes,
patriarchs, you can come out from behind those gates now.
Mike Males, a fiftyish Orange County
refugee, UCI social ecology Ph.D., Justice Policy Institute senior
researcher and sociology instructor at UC Santa Cruz, provides more facts
and figures on his primitive webpage: home.earthlink.net/~mmales/.