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California: America’s egalitarian and inclusive refuge? Not so fast

Stephen Menendian, assistant director, Othering & Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley | December 14, 2016

The great state of California is known for many things: its sublime national parks, stunning beaches, Hollywood and Silicon Valley, world-class public universities and dominant professional sports teams. And as the greater portion of the “left coast,” California enjoys a reputation for inclusive politics and liberal attitudes. It was the home of the anti-war movement in the 1960s, student protests that roiled campuses nationwide, LGBT rights and Harvey Milk, marijuana liberalization and sanctuary cities today. In the wake of the national election, and the rightward lurch in national politics, California is now being positioned as an inclusive alternative. After all, almost twice as many Californians voted for Hillary Clinton as Donald Trump. Robert Reich has even gone so far as to counterpoise California as the antidote to Trump’s America.

Yet, California’s reputation does not match the reality. According to a recently released report, California ranks as the 19th most inclusive state in the nation, just ahead of the middle of the pack. This report, the 2016 Inclusiveness Index, (which I co-authored) measures inclusiveness along multiple dimensions of group-difference (including race, gender, LGBTQ status and disability).

California flagTo begin with, California has not only among the highest levels of income inequality of any state in the U.S., but also between groups. Non-white to white per capita income is nearly the lowest in the nation. Granted, income inequality in California may be greater than other states, in part, because of the high-tech economy. Advanced economic sectors rely on highly skilled labor, which divides the haves and have-nots. But the fact that California is deeply unequal belies its reputation as a beacon of inclusion. The poor are being systematically displaced, and more residents are leaving California than arriving, because of the cost of living.

Income inequality shapes almost every domain of life, from health outcomes to education to housing cost-burden. California, for example, is the nation’s most housing cost-burdened state, with residents paying more of their income on housing than any other state. Moreover, the housing crisis in California is not simply a byproduct of a hot economy. It’s a product of state and local policies.

We should not forget that the Reagan tax revolt began in California before going nationwide. As governor, Ronald Reagan advanced a policy agenda that would reduce taxes on the wealthy, culminating in Proposition 13, a ballot initiative that has dramatically reduced the tax burden and effective tax rate on the most affluent communities, making it even more difficult for low- and middle-income families to move in, while also increasing the relative tax burden on the most distressed communities. Proposition 13 has also exacerbated the housing crisis by undermining the most critical incentives for development, additional tax revenue, and by effectively insulating long-term homeowners from the displacing effects of property value appreciation, who tend to oppose new developments through local control measures, harming millennials, young families, and recent arrivals.

California was also the first state to adopt a statewide ban on affirmative-action (a constitutional amendment that is still in place), resulting in a dramatic reduction in black enrollment on UC campuses (by half since 1997).

California was also a leader in mass incarceration, and adopted one of the nation’s most punitive three-strikes laws. Although this law has recently been overturned, California remains one of the nation’s leading incarcerators, with prisons so badly crowded that the U.S. Supreme Court was forced to intervene in 2011. Racial inequalities in California’s prison system are astounding. Among adult men in 2013, African Americans were incarcerated at a rate of 4,367 per 100,000, compared to 922 for Latinos, 488 for non-Latino whites, and 34 for Asians.

It is true that California has a number of cities and counties that have enacted so-called “Trust Acts,” or measures that resist the more punitive features of federal immigration enforcement. But California pioneered and enacted multiple propositions in the 1990s that prohibited state funds for education, health care and other services for undocumented immigrants as well as prohibited state funding for bilingual education. And today, how many of these so-called “sanctuary cities” are affordable to newcomers?

California may hold itself as a beacon of inclusion, but remains a deeply segregated and unequal state. Much more must be done if California is to finally live up to its reputation.

Comments to “California: America’s egalitarian and inclusive refuge? Not so fast

  1. California Ag Industry and Silicon Valley High Tech drive this inequality through their insatiable demand for Cheap Foreign Labor. Ensuring, a race to the bottom in wages for the rest of us-this is simple economics. One way to address this inequality is for CA unilaterally to impose a moratorium on all foreign labor. First, crack down on all illegal labor and then use the State Attorney General’s office to file suits against Silicon Valley firms who abuse the H1B Visa program.

    Further, the Governors office should convene a meeting for all congressional representatives to demand that they meet with President Trump to demand a 100 year moratorium on all foreign labor regardless of source. Will this happen, doubtful democrats are still in denial about why lost….. But, I do believe that the current inequality driven by Cheap Foreign Labor will transform CA into a red state. As more and more of us, are driven to unemployment by the H1B Visa program that benefits elite Silicon Executives and Corporate Farmers getting rich off illegal labor.

    Democrats in Ca are slowly creating a rust belt state that will revolt against them. Moreover, why should we continue to vote for a political party whose sole reason for existence is to drive us all into poverty. And only seems to care about the employment prospects of illegals and rich foreign elites. Count me out…your analysis fails to come to terms that this inequality is engineered by the America’s Wall Street First political party commonly known as the Democratic Party….

  2. I agree that “Prop. 13 may have been a good thing for poor & middle class property owners, but
    it eviscerated the funding (& therefore quality) of much of the public education of the state, ” and most of California figured this out in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. We pushed through the first lottery in California and the California state education system gets 50% of the lottery money. That’s the way it was sold and if some one wins multi-millions of dollars the education system should get multi-millions too. If that is not the case go complain about that to the lottery board. The lottary was to fix the problem. Don’t complain that the poor and middle class get to keep their homes.
    A novel idea might be to find another way to fund education. Think out side the box. all because that’s the way it was done before does not mean you have to keep finding funds the same way. This is Berkeley be imaginative.

  3. Prop. 13 may have been a good thing for poor & middle class property owners, but
    it eviscerated the funding (& therefore quality) of much of the public education of the state, especially K-12. The funding for public education due I believe directly because of Prop. 13 – contributes to making CA having some of the widest inequalities – of resources (esp. education) in the nation. If you happen to live in a wealthy & large school district then likely the students in the public education system have a goodly amount of budget.
    However, if you are unfortunate and do not live in a wealthy & well-funded school district – your budget is severely limited even with other fundraising to bolster it. (PTA, parents, etc.) My parents were homeowners of limited income when Prop. 13 was passed, but my mother as an educator herself – who sent her children to public schools K-12 – opted to leave the state. She knew exactly what that proposition would do to funding for public schools.

    When we combine the effect of Prop. 13 (reduction in budget funding) with what has happened to higher education re: tuition costs, for-profit diploma mills, high % interest for loans for education, etc. then we truly have a financial education disaster. CA has not yet recovered from this, nor made the budgets more equitable (though the new law re: bi-lingual education should be of some help)

    For some comparisons of where we stand compared to the rest of the country, take a look at this (dated 2015, but largely still pertinent):

    Oh, & Prop. 209 (ban on affirmative action) was well supported as I recall by a former UC Regent while he sat on the board. At least our chancellor at the time did what he could to ameliorate its effects at the time….

  4. “But California pioneered and enacted multiple propositions in the 1990s that prohibited state funds for education, health care and other services for undocumented immigrants as well as prohibited state funding for bilingual education. ”

    You realize that all of this is gone now, right? In fact, the prohibition against state funding for bilingual education was removed just this past month in the election, by statewide initiative. It passed easily. That was the final one of the items you listed.

    California has changed a lot since then. We had Republican governors and a narrowly-divided Assembly. Now the Rs can’t even get a candidate in 2nd place for ranked-choice voting, which is why our US Senate race this year was a Dem vs. Dem ballot. Trump lost by historic proportions. The Assembly has a Dem supermajority.

    Yes – there is a LOT of work to be done. But in the Assembly this past year, the Fair Pay Act (mandating equal pay for men and women doing the same job) was expanded to include race and ethnicity as protected areas. Disputes between employees in CA and their employers can no longer be adjudicated or arbitrated out of state – Delaware or wherever some fine print says. They have to be addressed in California. Agricultural workers will be paid overtime. That’s just a few of the bills that were passed and signed into law.

    So – a long way to go, but let’s look at where we are in 2016, not 1995.

  5. I know I am picking on one thing, but I need to state this.
    Proposition 13 is a great thing for the poor and middle class. I grew up in a California where the poorest in town were loosing there homes do to massive increases in property taxes. Some families had owned their home outright for more then a generation.
    I, a blue collar UCB employee, know for a fact that if it had not been for Proposition 13 I would have lost my house in the 1990’s when we received no increase in pay. That’s right, the pay check I took home in 1990 was less then 1% higher in 1999. The value of my home had gone way up and I would have lost it.

    If you want to see the rich kick out all the poor in a committee get read of Proposition 13.

    Side note; due to the drop in funding for education after Proposition 13 passed Californians passed the first lottery in California, selling it, by saying at least 50% of the Lottery money would go to education.

  6. Silly global ranking!
    Would Stephen Menendian feel he were in a more inclusive society if he were in Russia (26.6) or China (45.7) than he feels here in the U.S. (24.0)?!
    Certainly very few are incarcerated in Russia and China for trying to illegally immigrate into those police states, so right there is a “data gift” for Menedian to start his constant badmouthing of the U.S.
    Equally absurd is the implication that people are incarcerated in the U.S. who haven’t committed any crime. There is a lot of crime in the U.S. California has an epidemic of car theft, hard drug gangs, interpersonal violence, gun violence, and those bad boys get incarcerated when they get caught and why is that bad?
    Oh, wait, i get it now, liberal guilt, the U.S. and California are to blame for raising people with criminal tendencies unlike the police states China and Russia?
    And by the way, what kind of inclusiveness training do Russia and China do so they don’t have the huge number of crimes that the U.S. and California has?
    Haas Institute should be ashamed of itself for this irrational report.

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