By Linda L Barton
California was once the state of dreams. Starting with the 1849 gold rush, to Hollywood, and the birth of the Hi-tech Computer age, California had it all. As a former Californian, I thought I would spend the rest of my life living there. However, California began to lose its luster and shine. When I graduated from high school, I was ready to live the dream. I went to a couple of years of college before I realized it wasn’t for me. With the education I had gained, I then went into the data processing field.
As the years went by, and I began to wonder if I would ever enjoy the California dream. Unfortunately, the only thing I seemed to enjoy was high rent, ridiculous prices at the grocery store each week, and forget about buying a house that didn’t take two incomes to live. So, after never seeming to get ahead, my husband and I decided to pack up the kids, pets, and our meager belongings and leave the Golden State, NEVER to look back.
So, why am I writing this post, you ask? Well, this evening while watching Fox News, Laura Ingram did a report on which state has the highest poverty rate. Now, I must admit I ran a few possibilities through my mind in those brief seconds, but when Laura announced the state, I was NOT surprised.
According to a report in the LA Times, California has the highest number of people living in poverty out of ALL 50 states. In the report, nearly one out of five residents in California is poor. That’s according to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, which factors in the cost of housing, food, utilities and clothing, and which also includes noncash government assistance as a form of income.
With wealth generated by several industries, it makes you wonder why California has fallen so far behind. The state has a per-capita GDP having increased approximately twice as much as the U.S. average over the five years ending in 2016 (12.5%, compared with 6.27%). It makes one question how there can be so many living in poverty.
It’s not as though California lawmakers haven’t waged war on poverty. Heck, Sacramento and local governments have spent massive amounts of taxpayer money on the cause. Several state and municipal benefit programs overlap with one another; however, in some cases, individuals with incomes 200% above the poverty line receive benefits. California state and local governments spent nearly $958 billion from 1992 through 2015 on public welfare programs, including cash-assistance payments, vendor payments, and other public welfare. According to the Census Bureau. California, with 12% of the American population, is home today to about one in three of the nation’s welfare recipients. That’s 1/3 of all American welfare recipients! No wonder the state is in trouble.
The only problem is, the policymakers in California haven’t learned why all the lavish spending, has not only failed to decrease poverty but has actually made it worse. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, some states initiated welfare reform, as did the federal government under President Clinton and a Republican Congress. With strong work requirements, these overhauls were a big success: Welfare rolls plummeted, and millions of former aid recipients entered the labor force.
The state and local bureaucracies in control of California’s antipoverty programs, however, resisted pro-work reforms. In fact, California recipients of state aid receive a disproportionately large share of it in no-strings-attached cash disbursements. It’s as though welfare reform passed California by, leaving a dependency trap in place. One issue California must answer is why do 55% of immigrant families in the state get some kind of means-tested benefits, compared with only 30% of California natives. What happened to they come here to work?
Another thing adding to the poverty problem is California’s housing crisis. More than four in 10 households spent more than 30% of their income on housing in 2015. A shortage of available units has driven prices steadily higher, far above income increases. The lack of affordable housing is a direct outgrowth of misguided policies.
“Counties and local governments have imposed restrictive land-use regulations which drove up the price of land and dwellings,” explained analyst Wendell Cox. “Middle-income households have been forced to accept lower standards of living while the less fortunate have been driven into poverty by the high cost of housing.”
As a result of high-cost housing and lack of good jobs, many Californians find themselves homeless and living in tent cities. Most Americans do not understand such a concept, but in California, it is becoming all too common. When I went out to California in November of last year for the funeral of a family member, I was shocked to see people living in clusters of tents along the side of the highways. This wasn’t in a poor community either. No, this was in Davis, California, home to the University of Davis. When you hear reports of how 1-in-5 Californian is poor, it makes you wonder whatever happened to the Golden State.
In 1971, the California Environmental Quality Act was passed to help preserve the environment. This is one example, which can add roughly $1 million to the cost of a housing development. Then extensive environmental regulations aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions made energy more expensive, thus putting an added burden on the poor.
In an attempt to help low-income residents, California lawmakers recently passed a measure raising the minimum wage from $10 an hour going up to $15 an hour by 2022. However, a higher minimum wage will do nothing for the 60% of Californians who live in poverty and don’t have jobs. In fact, research shows it could cause many who have a job to lose it. A Harvard University study found evidence of how higher minimum wages have increased overall exit rates for restaurants in a dozen cities and counties by changing the minimum-wage rate over the last five years. “Estimates suggest a one-dollar increase in the minimum wage leads to a 14% increase in the likelihood of exit for a 3.5-star restaurant,” a report states. These restaurants are a significant source of employment for low-skilled and entry-level workers.
Apparently, the political class in California now wants to build a costly and needless high-speed rail system. There are also talks of secession from the United States, and California has enacted the first state-level cap-and-trade regime. California has established itself as a sanctuary state for illegal immigrants; they have banned plastic bags, threatened the jobs of thousands of workers, and seems hellbent by its dedication to California Values. All this only reinforces the rest of America’s perception of an out-of-touch, pie-in-the-sky, utopian Left Coast. California has done a disservice to the of millions of Californians whose values are more traditional, including many of the state’s poorest residents.
With a permanent majority of FAR leftists in the state Senate and Assembly, as well as control of the executive branch and weak opposition from Conservatives, California Democrats have long enjoyed the continued freedom of their blue-state ideology while paying little to no price at the ballot box. Because of this, the state’s poverty problem is doomed to continue. It’s quite sad how those same California state policymakers continue unwilling to release the engines of economic prosperity that once made California known as The Golden State.