Tarnishing the Golden State

No state advertises its egalitarian bona fides more than California. Governor Gavin Newsom brags that his state is “the envy of the world,” a place that is “not going to abandon our poor people.” In his inauguration speech, he claimed that “unlike the Washington plutocracy, California isn’t satisfied serving a powerful few on one side of the velvet rope. The California Dream is for all.” Yet even as Newsom and his progressive allies have backed Black Lives Matter and enacted a racialized “ethnic studies” curriculum in public schools, reality tells a less positive story. The Golden State’s racial minorities are far from thriving. Increasingly, they’re seeking fortunes elsewhere—often to redder, less “enlightened” states.

The minorities leaving California are not running away from beautiful weather or scenery but toward an opportunity horizon that no longer seems achievable in the Golden State. In a new report for Chapman University, my coauthors and I found that African-American and Latino Californians’ real earnings ranked between 48th and 50th among the states. Blacks in California earn roughly the same, or slightly less, than do their counterparts in Mississippi. The state has the nation’s worst cost-adjusted poverty rate and the third-highest Gini Inequality index (behind New York and Louisiana). According to the United Way of California, over 30 percent of California residents lack sufficient income to cover basic living costs even after accounting for public-assistance programs; this includes half of Latino and 40 percent of black residents.

It was different once. Ever since the nineteenth-century Gold Rush, people from around the world rushed to California to seek their fortunes, giving the state a diverse population of whites, Asians, Latinos, and blacks. Deeply afraid of an “Asian invasion” into what newcomers called Gold Mountain, incumbent Californians limited the rights of Chinese, Japanese, and other migrants from the East and backed racially oriented bans originating from Washington, D.C. that lifted only in the early 1950s. The Asian population has risen since. Until 1990, Asians were not systematically enumerated in the decennial census but were instead combined with Pacific Islanders; this larger grouping increased from 2.0 percent to 9.6 percent of the state’s population, according to Census Bureau research. The state’s Asian population increased from 10.9 percent in 2000 to 15.1 percent in 2020.

Immigrants also entered from Mexico, at first to escape the chaos of that country’s brutal 1910–1920 revolution. Controls on Mexican migration tended to follow economic conditions, but a liberalization of immigration laws in 1965, and a mass amnesty in 1986, assured that Latinos would be the Golden State’s largest group. Census Bureau research indicates that California’s Hispanic population rose from 6.0 percent in 1940 to 13.7 percent in 1970 and 32.4 percent in 2000. A figure of 37.6 percent was reached in 2010, rising to 39.4 percent in 2020.

Finally, African-Americans started coming to the state in the 1920s and 1930s, with their numbers increasing during World War II. Lured by good jobs in the state’s burgeoning aircraft, automobile, and construction economies, blacks may have faced some discrimination, but far less than they did elsewhere. In L.A., wrote Ralph Bunche, blacks were “eating high up” off the hog. As late as 1940, less than 2 percent of the population was black—a number that more than doubled by 1950 and reached a peak of 7.7 percent in 1980. Since 2000, however, California’s black population has dropped from 6.7 percent to 5.4 percent.

Today, the California opportunity structure is no longer so promising. Once seen as a mecca of sorts for blacks, L.A. now ranks toward the bottom of the Urban Reform Institute’s Upward Mobility Index, which measures such factors as income, housing affordability, unemployment, educational attainment, and homeownership. San Francisco does poorly by the same metrics. The best American cities for upward mobility today are not Los Angeles or San Francisco but Atlanta; Phoenix; Virginia Beach and Richmond, Virginia; and Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Read the rest of this piece at City Journal.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs 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.

Photo: City Journal.

You Can’t Fix Housing with New Houses. We Need New Cities

Housing is rapidly becoming the key economic issue facing America’s beleaguered middle class. Even as interest rates rise, rents are on a wild binge, up near 20 percent in the past year or more in some cities. Meanwhile, home prices have hit a high and appear to be climbing further still. Higher prices are emerging even in what have long been relative bargain communities in the southeast, as refugees from the high-priced Northeast pour in with their greater resources.

The property gold rush has been made more problematic by the growing role of professional, well-funded investors and speculators, to whom the housing market is more attractive than a sometimes unsteady stock market. Read more

The Tech Breakdown

The record meltdown of Meta stock earlier this month suggests turbulence in the tech world and a difficult period ahead for the company formerly known as Facebook. But even as Meta’s stock has fallen, the record profits being posted by fellow oligarchical tech firms Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon indicates that Silicon Valley’s hegemony is far from over. Read more

Fresno Business Council Meeting

Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky join a Fresno Business Council Board Meeting to discuss unaffordable housing and solutions to housing costs.

California’s Economy is Weaker Than it Looks

Whisper it, but the $45 billion surplus Gavin Newsom has projected for California next year isn’t quite what it seems. In fact, the bulk of that surplus is largely due to the earnings of a few giants such as Google, Apple and Meta (formerly Facebook), as well as a handful of IPOs. Read more

Restoring the California Dream

Join us for a webinar hosted by Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky to learn how we can restore the California Dream for middle and working class Californians. Following the presentation of the report, there will be an all-star panel led by Jeff Ball, new CEO of the Orange County Business Council.

Panel participants include Raul Anaya, Joe Hensley, and Karla Del Rio.

Register for the free Zoom webinar Restoring the American Dream

Restoring California Dream

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Click here to view or download a copy of the full report (17MB PDF opens in new tab or window)

California is a Bastion of Innovation Marred by Deep Inequality. Is That America’s Future?

Everyone seems to be California dreaming these days. Much of America, particularly its red parts, see California as a hopeless dystopia best understood as everything the nation should avoid. Meanwhile, for the progressive Left and many around Joe Biden, California is the Mecca, a great role model being attacked by jealous reactionaries.

As in so many cases, both sides have a piece of the truth.

Read more

Trouble in Paradise: The Crumbling California Model

Some horrified conservatives dismiss California as the progressive dystopia, bound for bankruptcy and, let’s hope, growing irrelevance. Progressives, for their part, hail the Golden State as the avatar of a better future, the role model for a new, more environmentally friendly and socially just economic order. They often dismiss critiques as conservative misinformation.

Read more

Here’s Why California is Losing Population for the First Time

California is suffering a major demographic reversal, one that threatens both the state’s economic future and the durability of its progressive model.

Read more

California’s Keenest Competitors for Tech Jobs are Blue Western States

For a generation, California has seen more of its residents and companies head elsewhere, but has found a way to respond, at least in terms of wealth creation, by constant innovation. But today, the Golden State’s hold on the elite reaches of the economy is slipping in ways that could threaten the state’s long-term prosperity.

Innovation is California’s best driver of high wages and upward mobility. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that in the innovation industry — software, computer and semiconductor manufacturing, technology services and nine other sectors — the median wage was $208,000 in California last year. That’s almost three times the $76,000 median wage for all jobs in California.

But now, prime competition for innovation-based jobs comes not only from low-tax, low-cost states like Texas but also from bluish states such as Colorado and Washington. We found that Washington and Utah have actually created more innovation sector jobs per capita than California over the past decade, while Arizona, Colorado and Idaho have had higher per capita growth rates for such jobs.

Many of these states, noted Christopher Lloyd, chair of the Site Selection Guild, which follows investment flows, are duplicating “many of the great things about California.” This includes building elite university systems in places like Washington, Texas, Colorado and Utah. “The development model has turned on its head,” Lloyd suggests. “These states have learned from California. There seems to be a failure there to recognize things have changed and tech people are much more mobile.”

Keeping tech in California is all the more critical with the state suffering the nation’s highest unemployment rate and Los Angeles the highest of any large metro area. We have already experienced a troubling shift in business and professional service jobs such as accountants, lawyers and management consultants, the largest source of higher-wage jobs. Over the last three decades, Texas saw more than double the level of California’s growth in that sector, but Washington, Oregon and Colorado also outperformed California by a wide margin.

Now tech seems also under assault. Some tech linchpins have already moved their headquarters to Texas, including Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Oracle and, perhaps most crucial, Tesla. Many other firms, like Apple, Airbnb, Amgen, Uber and SpaceX, are expanding largely outside of this state. These trends are accelerating, notes a recent Hoover Institution study.

Of course, big companies often move production and jobs to cheaper locales. But growth in the number of innovation businesses is also slowing. Since 2005, the number of these businesses grew far faster on a per capita basis in Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Florida, Georgia and Oregon. This is not only a reflection of high taxes and regulation; many of our keenest competitors, such as Washington, Oregon and Colorado, are hardly governed by conservative, anti-regulatory politicians.

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 Roger Hobbs 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.

Homepage photo: Alek Leckszas, via Wikimedia, CC 4.0 License.