As former Department of Labor Secretary Robert Reich says in the above video, there’s a lot to like about California, including the fact that it is electorally a solidly blue state with many good progressive elected officials.
But what’s bad about California is that economic inequality remains a serious and worsening problem. The state has the most billionaires of any state in the nation – 111 – but also one of the largest populations dependent on Medicaid (11.3 million, about 30 percent of the state’s residents).
One stunning example of what has happened to the wealth distribution in California: Thirty years ago Californians under 35 held about one-fifth of the state’s wealth. Today, they only have about one-tenth. The top 1 percent of Californians, meanwhile, hold more than 22 percent of the state’s income. The state’s middle class, as it is elsewhere in the country, is shrinking.
The website Capital & Main starting today is taking a month-long look at inequality in the state. “In ‘State of Inequality: California’s Vanishing Middle Class and How to Rebuild It,’ Capital & Main offers an unprecedented look at how economic disparity is transforming the most populous state in the country,” website editor Danny Feingold says in a statement. “The series goes well beyond the chasm between rich and poor, documenting the precarious circumstances jeopardizing the quality of life among a majority of California residents. Capital & Main’s reporting on everything from skyrocketing housing prices to the demise of pensions and the explosion of temporary employment shows that rampant inequality is leaving nearly everyone behind, and that far more needs to be done to rebuild the middle class.”
What California is experiencing – from the lasting effects of conservative decisions to cut government spending in key areas while cutting taxes on the state’s wealthiest to the effects of technology on labor and the marketplace – has national relevance and holds national lessons. From time to time this month we will be offering our own take on the series and how it informs our progressive populist economic message. In the meantime, follow the series yourself at capitalandmain/inequality.