Over the past few years California’s plight has taken on mythic proportions — a cautionary tale of progressive woe among conservatives, but a beacon for a future enlightened capitalism among its woke supporters. The current battle over the potential recall of the preening governor, Gavin Newsom, likely will enhance these extreme interpretations on both sides, but likely will not be sufficient to make the changes needed to restore the state’s legendary promise.
America has been lazily divided by pundits into red and blue states, as if there weren’t constant movement of people between them. Fortunately, reality is a lot more purple — and hopeful — as immigrants, people of color and millennials reshape parts of America by voting with their feet and moving.
These demographic groups are migrating from the big coastal cities to the suburbs, the interior cities, the South and even parts of the Midwest. And in the process, these newcomers change both their new homes and are also changed by them.
Our national divide is usually cast in terms of ideology, race, climate, and gender. But it might be more accurate to see our national conflict as regional and riven by economic function. The schism is between two ways of making a living, one based in the incorporeal world of media and digital transactions, the other in the tangible world of making, growing, and using real things.
If one were to explore the most blessed places on earth, California, my home for a half century, would surely be up there. The state, with its salubrious climate, spectacular scenery, vast natural resources, and entrepreneurial heritage is home to the world’s fifth-largest economy and its still-dominant technological centre. It is also — as some progressives see it — the incubator of “a capitalism we can believe in”.
Perhaps channelling such hyperbole, President Biden recently suggested that he wants to “make America California again”. Yet before leaping on this particular train, he should consider whether the California model may be better seen as a cautionary tale than a roadmap to a better future in the digital age.
The on-the-ground reality — as opposed to that portrayed in the media or popular culture — is more Dickensian than utopian. Rather than the state where dreams are made, in reality California increasingly presents the prototype of a new feudalism fused oddly with a supposedly progressive model in which inequality is growing, not falling.
California now suffers the highest cost-adjusted poverty rate in the country, and the widest gap between middle and upper-middle income earners. It also has one of the nation’s highest Gini ratios, which measures the inequality of wealth distribution from the richest to poorest residents — and the disparity is growing. Incredibly, California’s level of inequality is greater than that of neighboring Mexico, and closer to Central American countries like Guatemala and Honduras than developed nations like Canada and Norway.
It is true that California’s GDP per capita is far higher than these Central American countries, but the state has slowly morphed into a low wage economy. Over the past decade, 80% of the state’s jobs have paid under the median wage — half of which are paid less than $40,000 — and most are in poorly paid personal services or hospitality jobs. Even at some of the state’s most prestigious companies like Google, many lower (and even mid-level) workers live in mobile home parks. Others sleep in their cars.
The state’s dependence on low-wage service workers has been critical in the pandemic, but it now suffers among the highest unemployment rates in the nation, outdone only by tourism-dominated states like Hawaii, Nevada and New Jersey. Los Angeles, the home of Hollywood, now has the highest unemployment rate of the nation’s top ten metropolitan areas, higher even than New York.
But that hasn’t stopped California from portraying itself as a progressive’s paradise, publicly advocating racial and social justice. The state just passed a Racial Justice Act to monitor law enforcement, endorsing reparations (although California was never a slave state) and is working to address “systemic” racism in its classrooms. This “woke” agenda was taken to a new extreme this week when the San Francisco School Board decided to rename 44 schools because they were named after people connected to racism or slavery. The district’s Arts Department, originally known as “VAPA”, also decided to re-brand because “acronyms are a symptom of white supremacy culture”.
Read the rest of this piece at UnHerd.
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: Matthew Woitunski via Wikimedia, under CC 3.0 License.
California’s coastal urban centers, once the ultimate land of opportunity, suffer notorious traffic congestion, unaffordable housing, and a social chasm defined by a shrinking middle class, a small wealthy sector, and a sizable population seemingly locked in poverty. If there is a future for the region’s middle and upwardly mobile working class, it’s more likely to be found in the state’s large, generally more affordable, interior, known as the Inland Empire, or “the IE.” But for that to happen, the area’s promise needs to be better recognized—and supported—by policymakers.
Starting in the second half of the nineteenth century as a rural area with a few small cities built around affordable land and imported water—San Bernardino, Riverside, Ontario—the Inland Empire evolved as a place where, as the city of Chino’s motto puts it, “Everything Grows.” Over the years, the IE’s burgeoning farm economy attracted Mormons, Chinese, Japanese, Dutch, Basques, and Russians, and the area was also home to a large Latino workforce. By the end of the twentieth century, the IE was California’s growth hub. More than 300,000 people moved in from the state’s coast between 2007 and 2011, representing America’s largest county-to-county population shift. The IE is now one of the nation’s fastest-growing economies, and Riverside–San Bernardino–Ontario, with 4.5 million residents, is America’s 13th-largest metropolitan statistical area, ahead of Seattle, San Diego, and Denver.
As California’s overall rate of growth falls below the national average for the first time, with Los Angeles itself losing population, the IE continues to attract migrants, particularly families. It has remained, according to the American Community Survey, the only large region in the state that exceeds the national average of residents between the ages of 15 and 50 with children. Most of the area’s growth comes from the increased influx of immigrants and minorities, heavily Latino. The IE turned majority Latino in 2017, according to census data.
The Inland Empire also seems well positioned to benefit from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The American Enterprise Institute has found that, since the pandemic began, less dense areas, like the IE, are growing much faster than denser ones. In 2020 so far, for instance, new home sales are up 13 percent in the IE, compared with the same period in 2019, but are down 16 percent in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Though the IE’s larger existing home market has taken a hit, its decline is 50 percent less than that experienced in Los Angeles and Orange Counties.
The employment picture is robust, too. Over the past decade, the IE grew its jobs by 25 percent, equaling the Bay Area’s pace and almost doubling that of Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Last year, the IE created more jobs than any major metropolitan area in the state.
The Inland Empire’s trajectory, however, is not problem-free, by any means. While jobs are plentiful, high-wage employment has been scarce. Overall income growth has been among the lowest in the country, and wages rank among the lowest of any of the nation’s 50 largest counties. Even as educated professionals have moved to the area, business-service growth has remained tepid, well below that of the Bay Area and, perhaps more important, of key competitor regions such as Las Vegas, Phoenix, Dallas–Fort Worth, and Salt Lake City. Some 350,000 of the IE’s skilled and non-skilled workers commute daily to the coast for work. According to its 2018 “State of Work in the Inland Empire” report, the Center for Social Innovation at the University of California found that residents of Riverside tend to go to high-priced Orange County, while San Bernardino residents head to Los Angeles. As a result, two IE communities, Corona and Moreno Valley, rank in the top ten nationally for average length of commuting time.
Read the rest of this piece at City Journal.
Joel Kotkin is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Urban Reform Institute. His latest book is The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. Karla López del Río is associate director of the Center for Social Innovation at UC Riverside.
As the Biden administration settles in and begins to formulate its agenda, progressive pundits, politicians, and activists point to California as a role model for national policy. If the administration listens to them, it would prove a disaster for America’s already-beleaguered middle and working classes.
You are invited to join Chapman University’s Vice President of Research Thomas Piechota who will host the next Ask the Experts Town Hall on Friday, January 22, from 11 – 12:30 P.M. (PST). Read more
Join Chapman University’s Vice President of Research Thomas Piechota as he hosts the next Ask the Experts Town Hall. The installment this month will be moderated by Dean Thomas Turk of the Argyros School of Business and Economics. It will cover how best can California’s business climate be revitalized to avoid the loss of companies, Read more
For the past half-century, California has dominated America’s tech industry. From the development of precision farming to the incubation of aircraft, space, semiconductors and computer systems, this state has emerged time and again at the cutting edge of future industries. Read more
In the minds of most progressives, as well as some horrified conservatives, California is the harbinger of America’s future. Governor Gavin Newsom sees his state as a model, claiming California is “the envy of the world” and the great bastion of social justice. “Unlike the Washington plutocracy,” he boasts, “California isn’t satisfied serving a powerful few on one side of the velvet rope.” Read more
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