Posts

Look to Orange County for How to Turn California Purple

For decades, Orange County was a reliable incubator of conservative politics, and, in the era of Nixon, Goldwater and Reagan, a fairly powerful force in the state and on the national level. More recently, the area has been widely seen as tilting blue, particularly during the Trump era, with the media celebrating the end of “the Orange Curtain” in the 2018 midterm elections and its metamorphosis into another addition to our state’s progressive political culture.

Yet this November’s election results tell us something more nuanced. Instead of following the flow of the state’s urban centers, Orange County turned a deep purple and, in the process, reinforced its relevance to the state’s political future.

The county defied the politics of polarization, voting for Biden against Trump, but also electing two new Republicans to Congress, Michelle Steel and Young Kim, both Korean Americans. House seats in the county are now split with five Democrats and two Republicans. And its voters supported generally conservative positions on a host of state ballot issues.

This shift is not merely an expression of pent-up white resentment. Orange County is no longer just a white enclave by the beach. It is more than half Latino and Asian, with a level of education that is considerably higher than Los Angeles’ and the state‘s. Yet despite being educated and diverse, Orange County moved back toward the center-right in this year’s elections, perhaps a harbinger of changes in other parts of California as well.

Orange County’s electorate is clearly no longer right-wing conservative, but is quite heterogeneous compared with the state’s solidly left-leaning urbanized areas. It voted for Biden by a decisive margin, 53% to 44%, strongly rejecting Trump’s awful nativism. At the same time, it showed little interest in embracing progressive agendas on economic regulation, taxation and affirmative action.

This was most evident in the ballot propositions. Orange County voters rejected by roughly 20 percentage points Proposition 15, which would have raised taxes on commercial properties and drew fears of increased costs to already beleaguered medium-sized and small businesses. County voters approved by even larger margins Proposition 22, which exempted app-based drivers from state employee laws. That measure lost only in the Bay Area and in a few rural counties. An attempt to expand rent control failed miserably statewide, and by nearly 2 to 1 in Orange County, winning only narrowly even in the blue bastion of San Francisco.

One factor behind these politically mixed and moderate results may be the relatively high percentage of homeowners, many of whom oppose higher taxes and greater regulation. Roughly 57% of Orange County residents own their own home, compared with 45% in Los Angeles County and barely 37% in San Francisco. Homeownership rates are also much higher in the Inland Empire, the outer suburbs of the Bay Area, the North Coast and most Central Valley areas.

These are places where California’s middle class can afford homes, or have the chance to start a business, regardless of whether the state’s planning priorities pushes development into ever denser communities in coastal areas.

Read the rest of this piece at Los Angeles Times.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Homepage photo credit: San Clemente, CA by D. Ramey Logan via Wikimedia under CC 3.0 License.

Ownership and Opportunity: A New Report from Urban Reform Institute

In a new report from Urban Reform Institute, edited by Joel Kotkin, J.H. Cullum Clark and Anne Snyder explore what happens when opportunity stalls. Pete Saunders and Karla Lopez del Rio tell the story of how homeownership enabled upward mobility for their respective families. Wendell Cox quantifies the connection between urban containment policies and housing affordabilty.

The introduction, authored by Charles Blain, President of Urban Reform Institute is excerpted below:

The middle-class way of living is under constant threat as housing costs increase, eating away larger shares of the average American’s income.

Homeownership, which has been a critical source of advancement for middle-class, immigrant, and ethnic minority families and an asset that people can pass down from one generation to the next, is under threat. For many families, this means that instead of building wealth, they are seeing opportunity erode before their eyes.

As housing costs are the biggest driver of variation in living costs across metropolitan areas, the relentless housing cost increases of the last two decades have undermined standards of living for many Americans in the nation’s most expensive cities. If home prices continue to outpace household incomes for ordinary Americans in coming years, the American Dream will move ever further out of reach for millions of families. This is especially the case for Millennials and Gen Zers for whom high and rising housing costs are the single largest obstacle to accumulating wealth and achieving a financially sustainable life.

The COVID-19 crisis presents America with enormous challenges, but also new opportunities to move forward in rethinking policy on the future of housing and work to improve affordability and advance opportunity – particularly for our most disadvantaged communities.

A fresh policy agenda can breathe new life into the American Dream and protect middle-class standards of living. This agenda should prioritize new housing supply at all price points, particularly in growing, high-opportunity places. Cities should relax urban containment policies that have had the clear effect of making urban real estate scarce and expensive. State governments should reform tax codes that make it more cost effective to leave land stagnant than to build upon it.

If we want to protect the ability to climb the socioeconomic ladder from one generation to the next, we must face the crisis of unaffordable housing and declining homeownership. We must protect the biggest opportunity for advancement and scale back the rules and regulations that continue to snatch this opportunity away from millions of Americans.

Click here to download/read the full report.

Join the discussion on a new policy agenda for home ownership and opportunity in our post-pandemic economy.

Date: December 4, 2020
Time: 11:30AM – 1:00PM (Central Time)

Register for Webinar

Governor Preen: Newsom’s Woke Posturing Masks California’s Dismal Economic Record

If Hollywood were to cast a governor and future president, and if a straight white male were still politically acceptable, he would look like California’s Gavin Newsom. The 53-year-old governor, a former mayor of San Francisco, Newsom handsomely epitomizes the preening politics of the California elite class that has nurtured and financed his career from the beginning. Read more

The Grand New Party

Given the likely defeat of President Donald Trump, a functionally headless Republican Party is destined for a period of reflection. Trump himself, for all his rudeness and often unnecessary, divisive rhetoric, has transformed the Republican Party from being a bastion of the establishment to a voice for America’s working and middle class.

Read more

Coronavirus and the Office Apocalypse

“We shall never deal with the complex problems of large units and differentiated groups unless at the same time we rebuild and revitalize the small unit. We must begin at the beginning; it is here where all life, even in big communities and organizations, starts.”
— Lewis Mumford

What if they reopened the office and nobody came? This scenario is not as far-fetched as many believe. The office may not be dead, but its post-COVID future, particularly in big cities, may look more like a medieval-style arrangement than the buzzing, super dense science fiction vision from The Jetsons.

Read more

The Roots of California’s Tattered Economy Were Planted Long Before the Coronavirus Arrived

California is in far worse shape economically than the great majority of other states also struggling through the pandemic. COVID-19 may be the primary cause of our current distress, but the evolving structure of our economy has exacerbated this calamity. The worst part is our state leaders should have known this all along.

In September, California’s unemployment rate was 11%, well above the national average of 7.9%, and better only than two other states in the nation. Since the March lockdown, California, with 12% of the nation’s population, accounts for 16.4% of all U.S. unemployment.

A similar pattern can be seen in our metropolitan areas. Among the 55 largest metro areas in the country, the worst job losses from February to August — outside of Las Vegas and Boston — have occurred in the Bay Area and Los Angeles-Long Beach. By contrast, other metro areas, such as Salt Lake City; Austin, Texas; Dallas-Fort Worth; and San Antonio are doing much better.

Over the past decade, the California economy has been divided, Janus-like, between a rising innovation economy, based largely in the Bay Area, and the rest of the state where 86% of all new jobs have paid below the median income of $66,000, and 48% are under $40,000 a year. Once a beacon of opportunity, the state suffers the highest cost-adjusted poverty rate in the country.

The slow growth in high-wage jobs, particularly outside the Bay Area, contrasts with that of other states — such as Texas, Utah, Colorado, Washington — that have continued to expand middle-income jobs more rapidly in manufacturing and in professional, scientific and technical services, a large industry classification used by the federal Labor Department to include everything from legal work to software developers to accountants.

The consequences of this distorted economy have made the state susceptible to losses in fields like hospitality and other low-end services, which suffered half the initial job losses from the coronavirus shutdowns.

The situation is particularly grim in the Los Angeles region. Over the past two decades, according to an analysis of job growth by UC Irvine professor Ken Murphy, Los Angeles County has suffered almost twice the level of industrial job losses as the nation. During that period, professional and technical service jobs — which are better suited to remote work and have survived the pandemic in reasonably good condition — grew in the region by only 14%, compared with a national increase of 36% in such jobs.

Indeed, from 2000 to the beginning of 2020, L.A. County has led the state in growth of low-paying service jobs, adding 867,000 of them. That represents a 48% increase over the number of those jobs in 2000. Similar growth has been seen in Orange and San Diego counties. Yet between 2008 and 2018, the L.A. area lost 41,000 high-wage jobs.

With the pandemic, this dependency on low-end-job growth has placed the Southland at great risk. The health crisis has wiped out 374,000 of those jobs, a reduction of 23.3%. Overall, Los Angeles has lost 11% of its jobs, Murphy notes, significantly higher than the 8% drop nationally.

In previous recessions, notably after the 2008 financial crisis, Silicon Valley’s job growth, and revenues from initial public offerings and stock price increases, helped bail out the state’s finances, which are once again under stress. With several potential IPOs coming and the rising value of existing tech firms, we could see some help for the state government’s revenue picture.

But that will not help the state recover the lower-wage-job losses or reduce the entrenched inequality making the economy susceptible to rolling catastrophes. Even at full bore, these Silicon Valley firms create few jobs for non-tech workers, with the notable exception of the Tesla factory in Fremont, which employs roughly 10,000 workers.

Even more troubling is evidence that the industry’s willingness to keep high-wage jobs in California appears to be dissipating. Palantir, the data-mining software company, recently announced it was relocating to Denver from Palo Alto. Other tech companies — such as Uber, Tesla, Apple — have committed huge investments in Texas while others have shifted to northern Virginia, Nashville and Phoenix.

Ironically, the biggest threat to California-based jobs may come from the changing nature of technology itself. Employees at the largest tech companies, including Google, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and Salesforce, will very likely continue to work remotely even after the pandemic. In a recent survey, three-quarters of high-tech venture funders and founders predicted the same for their workforces. And some 40% of Bay Area tech workers say they would like to move to a less expensive region, which suggests locations outside of California.

For the past three decades, California’s leaders have assumed that the state’s great advantages — superb universities, a large, diverse labor force, international connections — would help us weather economic storms. The pandemic has shown how wrong that is and how much needs to be done to meet this steadily growing economic crisis.

This will require a dramatic shift in state policy, starting with environmental and other regulatory restraints. We should continue our efforts to embrace cleaner climate standards and move forward with lower-emission fossil fuels, such as renewable natural gas, and, when the technology is more economically feasible, gradually shifting completely to non-fossil energy.

Unless trends are reversed, California’s unstable economy will continue to erode. In 2016, an estimated 1,800 companies left, largely for Texas. Between 2009 and 2016, 13,000 companies left the state. Those include traditional middle-class employers such as McKesson, which now has the contract for distributing the COVID-19 vaccine, Toyota, Nissan and Mitsubishi, which have all been moving marketing and production jobs out to other states.

This does not mean we should stop focusing on “innovation sector” jobs. We need to take advantage of the rich vein of intellectual capital California has cultivated over the past four decades. But the state can diversify its economy and keep higher-wage jobs by beefing up its economic development strategies to expedite new facilities and provide incentives for companies willing to locate where working-class people live, providing education for working-class vocations, and creating a formal apprenticeship system in all trades to provide younger people with a path to a solid middle-class income.

These strategies depend on such things as retooling the education system to provide students with the specific skills required for jobs in manufacturing and other non-university-track areas. Almost three out of five California high schoolers are not prepared for either college or a career. The greatest disadvantages are suffered by Latino, African American and poor students, who have long been trapped in the worst, most under-resourced school systems.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought about great suffering for Californians in nearly every aspect of life. It’s time state government leaders focused on developing more economically diverse approaches — not only for recovery, but also to restore real opportunity to most of its residents.

This piece first appeared on Los Angeles Times.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Marshall Toplansky is a clinical assistant professor of management science at the Argyros School of Business and Economics at Chapman University. He is a research fellow at the university’s Hoag Center for Real Estate and Finance and at the Center for Demographics and Policy.

Photo credit: Dave Reichert via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

Virtual Town Hall — Middle Class Survival Strategies

Join us October 17th for a live interactive webinar on how the middle class can survive and thrive during this time of social and economic uncertainty. Read more

The Heartland’s Revival

For roughly the past half century, the middle swath of America has been widely written off as reactionary, backward, and des­tined for unceasing decline. CNBC recently ranked the “worst states” to live in, and almost all were in what is typically defined as the Heartland.1 Paul Krugman of the New York Times sees the region populated by “jobless men in their prime working years, with many suffering ‘deaths of despair’ by drugs, alcohol or suicide.” Read more

How Race Politics Burns Out

No future awaits those who rage against family, work, and community.

Where there is no bread, there is no Law. Where there is no Law, there is no bread.
— Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah

Racial identity politics has become the rage in the media, entertainment, and political worlds. You cannot read a mainstream publication, attend a sporting event, or browse a new educational curriculum without running a gauntlet of admonitions about America’s “systemic” racism and how it must be addressed, including through violence.
Read more

Beyond Feudalism: A Strategy to Restore California’s Middle Class

Beyond Feudalism: a Strategy to Restore California's Middle ClassIn this new report, Beyond Feudalism: A Strategy to Restore California’s Middle Class, Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky examine how California has drifted toward feudalism, and how it can restore upward mobility for middle and working-class citizens. An excerpt from the report follows below:

“We are the modern equivalent of the ancient city-states of Athens and Sparta. California has the ideas of Athens and the power of Sparta. Not only can we lead California into the future, we can show the nation and the world how to get there.”
Arnold Schwarzenegger, January 2007

California Preening: A State Of Delusion

California has always been a state where excess flourished, conscious of its trend-setting role as a world-leading innovator in technology, economics and the arts. For much of the past century, it also helped create a new model for middle and working-class upward mobility while addressing racial, gender and environmental issues well in advance of the rest of the country. Read more