No condition wears its sheen much more ostentatiously than California. The Golden State’s leaders consider they lead a paradise, ushering in what theorists Laura Tyson and Lenny Mendonca telephone “a new progressive era.” Others view California as worthy of nationhood; it reflects, as a New York Times columnist put it, “the shared values of our increasingly tolerant and pluralistic society.”
In reaction to this brutal killing of George Floyd at Minneapolis, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti announced plans to defund the authorities —a move applauded by Senator Kamala Harris, a potential Democratic Party president, regardless of the city’s steep increase in homicides. San Francisco mayor London Breed would like to do the exact same in her progressively crime-ridden, disordered city. This follows state attorney general Xavier Becerra’s many immigration-related lawsuits against the Trump government, even because his condition has turned into a refuge for illegal immigrants—complete with driver’s licenses for a 1 million and free healthcare.
Despite these innovative aims, Hispanics and African-Americans—a few 45 percentage of California’s overall population—fare worse at the country than nearly anywhere nationwide. According to cost-of-living quotes from the U.S. Census Bureau, 28 percentage of California’s African-Americans live in poverty, in comparison with 22 percent nationwide. Entirely one-fifth of Latinos, now the state’s biggest ethnic grouplive in poverty, compared with 21 percentage away from the state. “For Latinos,” notes longtime political adviser Mike Madrid, “the California Dream is becoming an unattainable fantasy.”
Since 1990, Los Angeles’s black share of the populace has fallen in half. In San Francisco, blacks constitute just 5% of the populace , down from 13 percent four decades ago. As a recent University of California at Berkeley poll indicates, 58 percent of African-Americans express interest in leaving the state—more than any ethnic group—while 45 percent of Asians and Latinos are also considering moving out. These residents may appreciate California’s celebration of diversitybut they find the state increasingly inhospitable to their needs and those of their families.
More than 30 years ago, the Population Reference Bureau predicted that California was creating a two-tier economy, with a more affluent white and Asian population and a largely poor Latino and African-American class. Rather than find ways to increase opportunity for blue-collar workers, the state imposed strict business regulations that drove an exodus of the industries—notably, manufacturing and middle-management service jobs—that historically provided gateways to the middle class for minorities. As a recent Chapman University study reveals, California is the worst state in the U.S. when it comes to creating middle-class jobs; it tops the nation in creating below-average and low-paying jobs.
Following Floyd’s death, even environmental groups like the Sierra Club issued bold proclamations against racism, but they still push policies that, in the name of fighting climate change, only lead to higher energy and housing costs, which hurt the aspirational poor. Many businesses, including small firms, must convert from cheap natural gas to expensive, green-generated electricity, a policy adamantly opposed by the state’s African-American, Latino, and Asian-Pacific chambers of commerce.
Meantime, California’s strict Covid-19 lockdown policies, imposed by a well-compensated (and still-employed) public sector, have imperiled small firms. “There’s a sense that there was major discrimination against local small businesses,” said Armen Ross, who runs the 200-member Crenshaw Chamber of Commerce in South Los Angeles. “They allowed Target and Costco to stay open while they were closed. Many mom-and-pops may never come back.” Many restaurants—roughly 60 percentage are minority-owned—may never recover, notes the California Restaurant Association.
In the past, poor Californians, whether from the Deep South, Mexico, or the Dust Bowl, could look to the education system to help them advance. But California now ranks 49th nationally in the performance of poor, largely minority, students. San Francisco, the epicenter of California’s woke culture, has the worst scores for black students of any county statewide. Yet educators, particularly in minority districts, often seem more interested in political indoctrination than in improving scholastic results. Half of California’s high school students can barely read, but the educational establishment has implemented ethnic-studies courses designed to promote a progressive, even anticapitalist, and race-centered agenda. Unless the education system changes, California’s black and Hispanic students face an uncertain future. A woke consciousness or deeper ethnic identification won’t lead to successful careers. One can’t operate a high-tech lathe, manage logistics, or engineer space programs with ideology.
California’s failure to improve conditions for Latinos and blacks was evident even before the lockdowns and current unrest. What the state’s minorities need is not less policing, or systematic looting of upscale neighborhoods, or steps to reimpose affirmative action, or kneeling politicians; they require policies that empower working-class citizens of all races to ascend into the middle class.
The state’s leaders should prioritize improving middle-class jobs and opportunities, replacing indoctrination with skills acquisition, and encouraging local businesses. Considering the nature of California politics, this can happen only if minority Californians demand something different. That could happen if enough of these residents realize that the state’s ruling progressive class is interested in their votes—but apparently not in improving their lives.
Joel Kotkin is the presidential fellow in urban futures in Chapman University, executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His new book is The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class.
Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
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