One popular progressive theory for how to address the economy lies in trying to emulate places like Massachusetts, a state whose per capita income ranks among the highest in the country. But, this approach fails to confront the huge demographic differences between the states.
Let’s start with ethnicity. Eighty percent of Massachusetts’ population is comprised of non-Hispanic whites or Asians, who traditionally have higher incomes, while in California whites and Asians constitute only 52 percent. Some 80 percent of the Boston metropolitan area is non-Hispanic white or Asian, compared to only 46 percent the population in the Los Angeles-Orange County area, and 40 percent in the Inland Empire. California has a poverty rate, adjusted for housing costs, of 23.4 percent, while Massachusetts, with its lower share of more heavily disadvantaged minority populations, registers just 13.8 percent.
California could only resemble Massachusetts if it successfully unloaded much of its disadvantaged minority and working-class population. Although some might celebrate the movement of poorer people out of the state, our poverty rate is unlikely to decrease, since historically disadvantaged ethnicities (African Americans and Hispanics) account for 58 percent of the under-18 population in California, and only 25 percent in Massachusetts.
Simply put, California faces the gargantuan challenge of generating a better standard of living for a huge proportion of its population. To be sure, both the San Francisco and San Jose metropolitan areas can thrive, like Massachusetts, in a highly education-driven economy. But states like California, Texas and Florida are too diverse, in class and race, to follow the “Massachusetts model.” We need good blue-collar and white-collar middle-income jobs to keep a more diverse, and somewhat less well-educated, population adequately housed and fed.
This should be the primary concern of our state. But the governor and legislators seem more interested today in re-engineering our way of life than improving outcomes. True, if you drive up housing and energy prices, some of the poor will leave, but so, too, will young people, the future middle class. Though our largest coastal metropolitan counties – Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo and San Francisco – have long been younger than the rest of the country, soon they will be more gray than the nation as a whole.
The demographic future of California seems increasingly at odds with the broad “hope” that Starr and others evoke so powerfully. We are headed ever more toward a state of divided realities, of poorer, downwardly mobile people, largely in the interior and in inner-city Los Angeles and Oakland, and toward a rapidly aging, wealthier, whiter enclave hugging the coast. For those with the right education, inheritance and a large enough salary, the California dream still shines brightly. But for the majority, it seems like a dying light.
They need to realize that a lot of people consider this a feature, not a bug. And as far as needing “good … middle-income jobs” to make things work, that’s not the case. AFFH to the rescue. If you can’t make diversity work where you are, then the next best thing is to unload your diversity on someone else. In fact, it’s not the next best thing, it’s a better option, because the diversity won’t be around you anymore. As they wrote, “successfully unloaded much of its disadvantaged minority and working-class population.”
To bring this full circle, this is in the postscript about Wendell Cox:
Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, a St. Louis-based public policy firm, and was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission.
Which means he recently left L.A. and moved here. Affordable housing, it’s like a thing.