Report: Restoring the California Dream

This newly released report examines how the California dream can be restored for California’s middle- and working-class families. An excerpt follows:

What is happening to the California dream? For some it still comes true, but for many, and perhaps most Californians, the state increasingly fails to provide ample opportunities to start a business, buy a home or move up to the middle class. The state’s performance on these issues is the ultimate test of the ‘California model’ and its validity for the rest of the nation.

We face two seemingly discordant realities. In technology, culture and lifestyle, California remains the envy of the world. The state’s aggregate economy—its GDP—has continued to grow faster than the national average, in large part due to the enormous surge of wealth created in the tech sector, where California is home to 53 of the country’s 500 largest firms and four of the country’s seven most valued firms, all in tech.

California’s 2020 $3.2 trillion GDP would make it the world’s fifth largest national economy if it were a standalone country, just behind Germany. It accounts for 14% of the US GDP, while our 40 million people account for slightly under 12% of the country’s population. The Golden State, by that metric, still punches above its weight. Yet for most Californians, the economic reality is far from rosy. Even as the state creates an ever-higher number of billionaires—24 added just last year—California workers have not shared in the prosperity. Nearly 80% of all jobs created in the state over the past decade paid less than the median income, a percentage far below our prime competitors. The inconvenient truth is that in key metrics such as housing costs and income growth, most Californians are doing worse than their counterparts elsewhere.

Overall, California now underperforms its main competitors, notably Arizona, Texas, Washington and Utah in many sectors of the economy—manufacturing, professional business services, construction and energy—that once provided steady, high-wage employment. The loss of major corporations in distribution, engineering, aerospace and technology also has eroded our economic diversity and key sources of long-term, middle-class employment.

Low real wages, combined with the very high price of real estate, have created a profoundly divided California. The primary task before us is to restore California’s opportunity culture, and by doing so, create prosperity for a broad section of California’s middle and working-classes. Our great state needs to restore its historical promise to its citizens.

California’s key challenge is not to produce wealth, but rather to spread its blessings more widely. Housing may well be the key issue; more than 70% of Californians surveyed consider the state’s housing costs as “a very serious issue,” and more than half are considering a move out.

View and download the full report here.

Related:

Register to join a webinar on January 21 about how the California Dream can be restored

California’s Economy is Weaker Than it Looks

Trouble in Paradise: the Crumbling California Model


Joel Kotkin is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, Executive Director of the Urban Reform Institute, and an internationally-recognized authority on global, economic, political and social trends. His most recent book, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism is now available for order.

Marshall Toplansky is a widely published and award-winning marketing professional and successful entrepreneur. He co-founded KPMG’s data & analytics center of excellence and now teaches and consults corporations on their analytics strategies.

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.

To be sure, despite the many well-documented problems, California still has an impressive economy that will shape the country’s and the world’s economic future—through the entertainment, space, critical software and social media industries and international trade. A spirit of experimentation and innovation persists across the state and fuels this industriousness.

Sadly, along with new technical and cultural innovations, the everyday reality outside the glamor zone presents a prospect as cautionary as it is aspirational, a harbinger of innovation marred by massive social inequality.

For the parade of startups and youthful billionaires coexists with the country’s highest cost-of-living adjusted poverty rate, the largest gap between the middle class and the rich, the most crowded housing and second lowest homeownership rate.

California once projected the essence of our common national dream. Today, its leaders increasingly see it as a kind of post-America, with its own racial, gender and environmental standards. It’s an approach welcome in Malibu or Palo Alto, but most Californians are left coping with the nation’s worst homeless crisis and rising crime. A ride on Highway 33 through the impoverished expanses of the Central Valley reveals a vast and bleak landscape of abandoned cars, dilapidated houses and threadbare shops.

The pandemic has accelerated California’s class divide, vastly enriching the tech elite and financial oligarchs but leaving California with the nation’s highest unemployment rate and making it the second hardest place to find a job.

Silicon Valley was once among the most egalitarian regions in the nation; today, as it has become more aggressively woke and taken to massively funding progressive Democrats, it has become one of the most segregated places in the country, what CityLab has described as “a region of segregated innovation.”

Times may be flush for venture capitalists and serial tech entrepreneurs, but they’re not so great for those who clean their own buildings and work in the food service industry. Nearly 30 percent of Silicon Valley’s residents rely on public or private financial assistance. African Americans and Latinos have seen declines in real incomes. The one percent pay roughly half of the state’s income tax and windfalls from IPOs fund the state’s ultra-generous pensions and an ever expanding welfare state—and yet, none of this creates good jobs.

Read more

The New Dark Ages

If ignorance is bliss, the Western world should be ecstatic. Even as colleges churn out degrees and collect fees, and technology makes information instantly accessible, the basic level of literacy, as measured by such things as reading books and acquainting oneself with the past, is in a precipitous decline. Rather than building a vital world with our technological culture, we are repeating the memes of feudal times, driven by illiteracy, bias and a rejection of the West’s past.

Read more

We Need More Families

Families, and the lack of them, are emerging as one of the great political dividing lines in America, and much of the high-income world. The familial ideal was once embraced by all political factions, except on the extremes, but that is no longer the case.

Read more

California Dreamin’

“I just took [my son] to our local Walgreens to buy him a toy. While there, a man shoved past me so firmly that he sent me into the shelving. Then he proceeded to fill a brown paper bag with Halloween candy and waltzed out of the store. This is one of five Walgreens stores in SF that will be closing in the next two months, in part because of rampant theft. And our city leaders all keep insisting crime is down.”   San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities, by Michael Schellenberger

Read more

The New Face of Autocracy

A former Facebook employee hailed by the media as a whistleblower testified this week on Capitol Hill about the social media giant’s algorithm, and how it harms children and democracy. Frances Haugen told the the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security that Facebook routinely chooses profit over safety, creating an addictive product that puts children—and American democracy—at risk by failing to adequately police its product.

But though Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is no doubt embarrassed by the brouhaha, he and his fellow big tech founders ultimately may have very little to worry about. At the end of the day, Haugen’s testimony was less an exposé and more a distraction from the far more urgent issue of big tech’s expanding monopolistic reach, and its growing political and cultural power. The real question when it comes to big tech is not the one posed by Haugen’s testimony—whether Facebook and the other tech platforms allow “misinformation” or “hate speech” on their platforms; her testimony instead conveniently missed the real problem: that a handful of mega-firms are now controlling content for much of the population.

Nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults now get their news through social media sites like Facebook or from Google.This is even more true among millennials, soon to be the nation’s largest voting bloc. And tech oligarchs have further expanded their domain by purchasing much of what is left of the mainstream media, including the New Republic, the Washington Post, the Atlantic, and the long-distressed Time Magazine .

And contrary to what Haugen and the Senate seem to believe, the biggest problem with having the flow of information so tightly concentrated in the hands of so few is not that it allows posts from hate groups or divisive political operatives or skinny teenagers. It’s that a tiny handful of oligarchs are dictating what is knowable, or what views are valid.

Attempts to shape or control thought by the tech giants are proceeding with astonishing speed. Staffers at Google, Facebook and Twitter increasingly “curate” the content on their sites. Often this means eliminating conservative views, according to former employees; companies increasingly use algorithms intended to screen out “hate groups.” But as reporting has shown, the e-programmers put in charge of this work often have trouble distinguishing between “hate groups” and those who might simply express dissenting if legitimate supported views.

If once we thought the IT revolution would foster a more democratic era in communications, what happened was the opposite: The media became more concentrated, with just a few companies controlling all the information pipelines.The steady erosion in anti-trust enforcement under both parties has left firms like Facebook and Google with almost unlimited power to acquire or crush competitors and ideological opponents. And these firms are near-absolute monopolies; they hold market shares that exceed eighty percent in key markets like search, social media, and book sales, as well as phone and PC operating systems.

And unlike for companies in a competitive economy, customer resistance and record low levels of trust mean very little to the profits of big tech firms. With their quasi- monopoly status, Facebook and Google don’t have to worry about giving offense the way a conventional firm might.

In fact, attempts to “regulate” the tech oligopolies may just make them stronger. Mark Zuckerberg routinely agrees with the censure against him, and when the federal strictures do come down, there’s every sign he will accept them, gaining even more allies in government and consolidating his monopoly and political influence.

Read the rest of this piece at Newsweek.


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.

The Great Office Refusal

The pandemic has cut a swath through our sense of normalcy, but as has been the case throughout history, a disastrous plague also brings opportunities to reshape and even improve society. COVID-19 provides the threat of greater economic concentration, but also a unique chance to recast our geography, expand the realm of the middle class, boost social equity, and develop better ways to create sustainable communities.

Driven partly by fear of infection, and by the liberating rise of remote work, Americans have been increasingly freed from locational constraints. Work continues apace in suburbs and particularly in sprawling exurbs that surround core cities, while the largest downtowns (central business districts, or CBDs) increasingly resemble ghost towns.

This shift has made it more practical for individuals and particularly families to migrate to locations where they can find more affordable rents, and perhaps even buy a house. But such a pattern may be countered by investors on Wall Street, who seem determined to turn the disruption to their own advantage by gearing up efforts to buy out increasingly expensive single-family homes, transforming potential homeowners into permanent rental serfs and much of the country into a latifundium dominated by large landlords.

We are in the midst of what the CEO of Zillow has called “the great reshuffling,” essentially an acceleration of an already entrenched trend of internal American migration toward suburbs, the sunbelt, and smaller cities. Between 2019 and 2021 alone, a preference for larger homes in less dense areas grew from 53% to 60%, according to Pew. As many as 14 million to 23 million workers may relocate as a consequence of the pandemic, according to a recent Upwork survey, half of whom say they are seeking more affordable places to live.

This suggests that the downtown cores of U.S. cities will continue to struggle. Since the pandemic began, tenants have given back around 200 million square feet of commercial real estate, according to Marcus & Millichap data, and the current office vacancy rate stands at 16.2%, matching the peak of the 2008 financial crisis. Between September 2019 and September 2020, the biggest job losses, according to the firm American Communities and based on federal data, have been in big cities (nearly a 10% drop in employment), followed by their close-in suburbs, while rural areas suffered only a 6% drop, and exurbs less than 5%. Today our biggest cities—Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago—account for three of the five highest unemployment rates among the 51 largest metropolitan areas.

The rise of remote work drives these trends. Today, perhaps 42% of the 165 million-strong U.S. labor force is working from home full time, up from 5.7% in 2019. When the pandemic ends, that number will probably drop, but one study, based on surveys of more than 30,000 employees, projects that 20% of the U.S. workforce will still work from home post-COVID. 

Others predict a still more durable shift: A University of Chicago study suggests that a full one-third of the workforce could remain remote, and in Silicon Valley, the number could stabilize near 50%. Both executives and employees have been impressed by the surprising gains of remote work, and now many companies, banks, and leading tech firms—including Facebook, Salesforce, and Twitter—expect a large proportion of their workforces to continue to work remotely. Nine out of 10 organizations, according to a new McKinsey survey of 100 executives across industries and geographies, plan to keep at least a hybrid of remote and on-site work indefinitely.

The shift of work from the office to the home, or at least to less congested spaces, threatens the strict geographic hierarchy of many elite corporations. Some corporate executives, like Morgan Stanley’s Jamie Dimon, are determined to force employees back into Manhattan offices, like it or not. It’s now a common mantra among like-minded executives, especially those connected to downtown office development, that workers are “pining” to return to the office. Some have even threatened employees who do not come back in person with lower wages and decreased opportunities for promotion, while offering to reward those willing to take the personal hit of coming back on-site every day.

Read the rest of this piece at Tablet.


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 credit: Steven Zwerink via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

Never Going Back

For months, corporate hegemons, real estate brokers and their media acolytes have been insisting that a return to “normalcy,” that is, to the office, was imminent. Some companies threatened to reduce the incomes of remote workers, and others warned darkly that those most reluctant to return to the five-day-a-week grind would find their own ambitions ground down to the dust. Workers have been reported to be “pining” to return to office routines.

Fears of returning to the office due to the Delta variant have delayed a mass return to gateway cities. Office vacancies grew in August. Since the pandemic began, tenants gave back around 200 million square feet, according to Marcus & Millichap data, and the current office vacancy rate stands at 16.2 percent, matching the peak of the financial crisis. Overall, it is widely expected that office rents will not recover for at least five years.

Things could get ugly as some $2 trillion in commercial real estate debt becomes due by 2025, particularly in large, transit dependent central business districts, reflecting in part reluctance among commuters to ride public conveyances. This is a world-wide phenomenon—occurring in New York, Hong Kong, Paris, London, and other financial centers—and accompanied by a marked decline in business travel, with conventions and meetings particularly devastated.

A New Economic Geography

So where is the work getting done? Increasingly, in the suburbs and exurbs of the big metros, smaller metros, cities and even some rural areas, all of which offer lower urban densities, which usually means less overcrowding. In the first year of the pandemic, big cities, according to the firm American Communities and based on federal data, suffered the biggest job losses, nearly 10 percent, followed by their suburbs, while rural areas suffered 6 percent and exurbs less than 5 percent. The highest unemployment rates today are in coastal blue states, while the lowest tend to be in central and southern states.

The shift towards dispersed and remote work suggests the beginnings of a new geographical and corporate paradigm. Suburbs and exurbs accounted for more than 90 percent of all new job creation in the last decade, but with the rise of remote work, proximity to the physical workplace has lost more  of its advantages. University of Pennsylvania Professor Susan Wachter notes that telework eliminates the choice between long commutes and inordinate housing costs. The areas where remote work is growing most are generally small cities, as well as Sunbelt locales in Florida and South Carolina.

The dispersion of work is not a matter of low-wage workers heading to cheap places to do low-status jobs. In metros over one million such as Raleigh-Cary, Austin, Orlando, Salt Lake City, Nashville, Phoenix, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Charlotte, professional and business-services jobs are growing much faster than they are in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles. The number of employees using the office started to drop as early as 2017 in San Francisco, the biggest winner in the tech economy.

The pandemic supercharged these trends. The disturbing rate of fatalities and hospitalizations in the Northeast, notably New York City, including Manhattan but particularly the poorest sections of the outer boroughs, chased many urbanites to the suburbs, exurbs, and beyond. Even as infections spread to other regions, it remained easier to endure the pandemic in a more spacious house, particularly if mass transit is not necessary.

Demographer Wendell Cox shows that, despite the considerable spread to less crowded areas over the past year, areas with the highest urban densities, in spite of their lockdowns, have experienced two times or more overall adjusted Covid fatalities, after more than one year of draconian social distancing regulations that eliminated much of downtown employment and cut mass transit use by up to 90 percent. Car-dominated places, where people can more easily afford space, have lower infection and fatality rates; if other pandemics follow, as many suspect, memories of the recent hegira will remain.

The longer the pandemic lasts and new variants appear, the greater will be what new research from Jose Maria Barrero, Nicholas Bloom, and Steven J. Davis refers to as  “residual fear of proximity.” The team suggests that when the pandemic fades, roughly 20 percent or more of all work will be done from home, almost four times the already growing rate before the pandemic. A study from the University of Chicago suggests this could grow to as much as one-third of the workforce and as high as 50 percent in Silicon Valley. Roughly 40 percent of all California jobs, including 70 percent of higher paying work, could be done at home, according to research by the Center of Jobs and the Economy.

Read the rest of this piece at American Mind.


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 credit: Carol M. Highsmith, via Library of Congress under CC 1.0 License.

The Fading Family

For millennia the family has stood as the central institution of society—often changing, but always essential. But across the world, from China to North America, and particularly in Europe, family ties are weakening, with the potential to undermine one of the last few precious bits of privacy and intimacy.

Read more

Big D is a Big Deal

Located on the Southern Plains, far from America’s coasts and great river systems, the Dallas–Fort Worth metropolitan area epitomizes the new trends in American urbanism. Over the past decade, DFW has grown by some 1.3 million people, to reach a population of just under 7.7 million, making it the nation’s fourth-largest metro, based on new figures from the 2020 census. Rather than building on natural advantages, the metroplex owes its tremendous growth to railroads, interstate highways, and airports, plus an unusual degree of economic freedom and affordability.

There’s an adage in Texas about a braggart being someone who’s “all hat and no cattle.” But you can’t say that about “Big D,” rapidly emerging as the de facto capital of the American Heartland. The DFW metroplex is now home to 24 Fortune 500 company headquarters, trailing only New York and Chicago; 40 years ago, the region had fewer than five. DFW’s economy has grown markedly faster than those of its three largest rivals (New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago), and it has come through the Covid-19 pandemic with less employment loss than any other metro among the nation’s 12 largest.

Population, too, has surged almost three times faster than the average for the nation’s 50 largest metros. Much of this growth has come from net domestic migration: among America’s top 20 metros, DFW boasts the fourth-highest rate of net inbound migration (including millennials), and the area has experienced a massive surge in its foreign-born population. Demographers project that DFW will reach 10 million people sometime in the 2030s, surpassing Chicago to become America’s third-largest metro area.

Dallas–Fort Worth is emerging as a megacity but a distinctly polycentric one—more like Los Angeles than New York or Chicago. As of 2017, the Dallas central business district contained only 11 percent of DFW’s total office space and only 5.2 percent of the region’s office space under construction. Even including Fort Worth’s smaller downtown, the area has a smaller share of its office space in traditional downtowns than almost any other large American city. Since 2010, more than 87 percent of the metro area’s population growth has been outside the city of Dallas, as has virtually all the region’s job growth. That growth has been concentrated in two corridors: one stretching from the northern suburbs almost to the Oklahoma border; and another radiating outward from downtown Fort Worth.

At the same time, some of the region’s core urban areas, particularly Southern Dallas, continue to struggle. If DFW is really going to vault into the ranks of top-tier global cities, it will need to offer not just suburban safety and quality of life but also more options for those who want to live in a traditional urban setting, as well as better economic opportunities for residents of neighborhoods that have been left behind.

Farmer and lawyer John Neely Bryan founded Dallas in 1841, when he claimed a plot of land on an eastern bluff overlooking the Trinity River. Settled after the Civil War by Confederate veterans (Bryan himself served as a Confederate soldier) and freed slaves, the Dallas–Fort Worth area unequivocally belonged to the South in its attitudes and social relations up to the early twentieth century.

Between 1880 and 1900, the city of Dallas grew fourfold, exceeding 40,000 in population, based on its position as a railroad junction and a cotton-trading hub. Fort Worth, meantime, boomed in the late nineteenth century as a key stop on the great Western cattle drives. Early on, the region developed a reputation as a violent, riotous place—a Wild West outpost known for spawning legendary figures from Doc Holliday to Bonnie and Clyde, as well as carousing cowhands and other unsavory sorts.

In the early twentieth century, the Texas oil boom raised the region’s profile, making Dallas a local financial center. Still, the state’s economy depended on resource extraction, an industry controlled by the big eastern cities. Texas remained, in the words of governor (and Dallasite) Pappy O’Daniel, “New York’s most valuable foreign possession.”

But even as they genuflected eastward, the young city’s business leaders had big plans and a talent for self-promotion. As Fortune observed in 1949, “Dallas doesn’t owe a thing to accident, nature, or inevitability. . . . It is what it is . . . because the men of Dallas damn well planned it that way.” Starting in the 1930s, the Dallas Citizens Council, a business group representing what historian Darwin Payne has called “the local oligarchy,” remade the city, building parks and cultural institutions, promoting the growth of Southern Methodist University, and creating annual tourist attractions—especially the State Fair of Texas and the Cotton Bowl college football classic.

Their efforts paid off. New York travel writer John Gunther dismissed Houston as uncouth and money-obsessed in a 1946 profile but praised Dallas as “a highly sophisticated little city,” with fine hotels, restaurants, and department stores, epitomized by Neiman Marcus. Gunther described downtown Dallas as “a mini-Manhattan.”

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 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.

J.H. Cullum Clark is Director, Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative and an Adjunct Professor of Economics at SMU. Within the Economic Growth Initiative, he leads the Bush Institute’s work on domestic economic policy and economic growth. Follow him on Twitter @cullumclark.