California: Home of the Haves and Have-Nots

California If the weather and the glamor of California seem to be calling you, you might want to think twice before you load up the truck and move to Beverly. A new study shows that there's a huge disparity between the haves and have-nots in the Golden State.

While some Californians are enjoying levels of well-being and access to opportunity, which the nation as a whole will not reach until the 2060s, others are experiencing health care, education, and earnings levels that characterized the U.S. as a whole, in the 1960s. Nearly a century of human progress separates the best-off and the worst-off areas in the state.

The American Human Development Project recently released A Portrait of California, which explores well-being and access to opportunity across the Golden State. The findings in work/income differentials are staggering. They include:

  • A gap of $58,000 in earnings of the typical worker -- double the median personal earnings in the U.S. -- separate the top earners in the Santa Clara–Cupertino, Saratoga, Los Gatos area (about $73,000) from the lowest earners in the LA–East Adams–Exposition Park area (about $15,000).
  • Median earnings (wages and salaries of all workers 16 and older) range from $47,000 in the Bay Area to $28,000 in the Central Sierra region and $24,000 in Northern California.
  • Men earn more than women in every racial and ethnic group. In the most affluent areas (i.e. Silicon Valley) women earn 49 cents for every $1 men earn; in the least affluent areas (scattered throughout the state, women earn 77 cents for every $1 men earn.
  • California's Latina women earn the least, at $18,000 per year -- earnings on par with those of the typical American worker in 1960, half a century ago.

Using the American Human Development (HD) Index, a composite measure of health, education, and standard of living, the study sorts residents into "Five Californias" according to where they fall along the Index. Living is good if you're in the top 1 percent known as "Shangri-La," but heaven help you if you're in the "Forsaken Five Percent."

  1. Silicon Valley Shangri-La, comprises the top 1 percent of the population in terms of well-being levels. These extremely well-educated high-tech entrepreneurs and professionals are fueling, and accruing the benefits of, innovation. Residents of this area have highly developed capabilities, expanding their freedom to pursue goals that matter to them. (Despite its overall high score, however, it is important to note that pockets of poverty exist within Silicon Valley.) One-in-three members of this region is foreign-born.
  2. Metro-Coastal Enclave California, this group makes up 18 percent of the state's population. They are located in upscale urban and suburban neighborhoods, chiefly along the coast. Residents of these areas are largely affluent, credentialed and resilient workers, enjoying comparative financial comfort and security
  3. Main Street California, this majority-minority group of Californians experience longer lives, higher levels of educational attainment, and higher earnings than the typical American. Yet these suburban and ex-urban Californians, representing 38 percent of the population, have an increasingly tenuous grip on middle-class life.
  4. Struggling California, makes up 38 percent of the population across the state, from the suburbs, exurbs, and rural areas of the Central Valley to parts of major metro areas and the Inland Empire to swaths of Northern California. Struggling Californians work hard but find it nearly impossible to gain a foothold on security.
  5. The Forsaken Five Percent of Californians are residents bypassed by the digital economy and left behind in impoverished L.A. neighborhoods as well as in rural and urban areas in the San Joaquin Valley. These Californians, of whom one-third are foreign-born, can expect to live nine fewer years than those in Shangri-La and face an extremely constrained range of opportunities and choices.

The study suggests actions that can be taken to bring people in the bottom categories closer to the top. They include investing in public health campaigns and food subsidies for fruits and vegetables; investing in preschool and targeting the worst performing high schools with the highest dropout rates; and taking steps to address gender equality and wage discrimination in the workplace.


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