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California in 1970 was the American Dream writ large. Its economy was diversified, from aerospace and tech to agriculture, construction and manufacturing, and allowed for millions to achieve a level of prosperity and well-being rarely seen in the world.
Forty-five years later, California still is a land of dreams, but, increasingly, for a smaller group in the society. Silicon Valley, notes a recent Forbes article, is particularly productive in making billionaires’ lists and minting megafortunes faster than anywhere in the country. California’s billionaires, for the most part, epitomize American mythology – largely self-made, young and more than a little arrogant. Many older Californians, those who have held onto their houses, are mining gold of their own, as an ever-more environmentally stringent and density-mad planning regime turns even modest homes into million-dollar-plus properties.
In the coming decades, no ethnic group may have more of an economic impact on the local level in the U.S. than Asian-Americans. Asia is now the largest source of legal immigrants to the U.S., constituting 40% of new arrivals in 2013. They are the country’s highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group — their share of the U.S. population has increased from 4.2% in 2000 to 5.6% in 2010, and is expected to reach 8.6% by 2050.
Do the middle class and working class have a future in the Southland? If they do, that future will be largely determined in the Inland Empire, the one corner of Southern California that seems able to accommodate large-scale growth in population and jobs. If Southern California’s economy is going to grow, it will need a strong Inland Empire.
The calculation starts with the basics of the labor market. Simply put, Los Angeles and Orange counties mostly have become too expensive for many middle-skilled workers. The Riverside-San Bernardino area has emerged as a key labor supplier to the coastal counties, with upward of 15 percent to 25 percent of workers commuting to the coastal counties.
In a new report recently released by National Core, a Rancho Cucamonga nonprofit that develops low-income housing, I and my colleagues, demographer Wendell Cox and analyst Mark Schill, explored the challenges facing the region.
California, after nearly five years in recession, has made something of a comeback in recent years. Job growth in the state – largely due to the Silicon Valley boom – has even begun to outpace the national average. The state, finally, appears to have finally recovered the jobs lost since 2007.
To some, this makes California what someone called “a beacon of hope for progressives.” Its “comeback” has been dutifully noted and applauded by economist Paul Krugman, high priest of what passes for the American Left.
In this information age, brains are supposed to be the most valued economic currency. For California, where the regulatory environment is more difficult for companies and people who make things, this is even more the case. Generally speaking, those areas that have the heaviest concentration of educated people generally do better than those who don’t.
President Obama’s amnesty edict, likely to be the first of other such measures, all but guarantees California’s increasingly Latino future. But, sadly, for all the celebration among progressives, the media, Democratic politicans and in the Latino political community, there has been precious little consideration about the future of the newly legalized immigrants, as well as future generations of Latinos, in the state.
Southern California has long been a nurturer of dreams that, while widely anticipated, often are never quite achieved. One particularly strong fantasy involves Los Angeles abandoning what one enthusiast calls its “car habit” and converting into an ever-denser, transit-oriented region.
The British Talmudic scholar Abraham Cohen noted that, throughout history, children were thought of as “a precious loan from God to be guarded with loving and fateful care.” Yet, increasingly and, particularly, here in Southern California, we are rejecting this loan, and abandoning our role as parents.
For more than a century, Southern Californians have dreamed of their region becoming host to a great global city. At the turn of the 20th century Henry Huntington, who built much of the area’s first mass-transit system, proclaimed that “Los Angeles is destined to become the most important city in the world.”
Of course, builders of other cities – St. Louis, New Orleans, Chicago and even Cincinnati, Ohio – have made similar predictions. But L.A.’s claim, unlike the others, had a significant resonance. Not only was the region growing rapidly throughout the previous century, and now stands as North America’s second-largest population center, but it dominated a host of fields, notably entertainment and aerospace, and was highly influential in energy, fashion and manufacturing.
If California is to change course and again become a place of opportunity, the impetus is likely to come not from the perennially shrinking Republican Party but from working-class and middle-class Democrats.
Forty years ago, Mexico was a one-party dictatorship under the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, hobbled by slow growth, soaring inequality, endemic corruption and dead politics. California, in contrast, was considered a model American state, with a highly regarded Legislature, relatively clean politics, a competitive political process and a soaring economy.
The recent political earthquake in Europe has great implications for the United States, both internationally and domestically. The unpopularity of European Union institutions produced record-breaking votes for a motley assortment of anti-establishment parties across the Continent, suggesting it’s time to stop looking across the Atlantic for role models as Europe’s dismal prospects have inspired the lowest levels of political support in several decades.
I’ve been friends with Charlie Sena for almost two decades. Charlie, a longtime entrepreneur, Democratic political operative and fundraiser for former Gov. Gray Davis, recently chided me about what he sees as my “negativity” about California and its future. My response was that, given its natural advantages, this region should not be in such a weakened condition. Decline, I suggest, is not an imperative here, but largely a choice.
California’s dream is shrinking inexorably, and only radical steps can prevent the condition from becoming permanent. Compared with previous economic expansions, fewer state residents and communities are benefiting from this recovery, which has largely been restricted to the small coastal zone surrounding the Bay Area, as well as certain parts of western Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties.
The most important news recently to hit Southern California did not involve the heinous Donald Sterling, but Toyota’s decision to pull its U.S. headquarters out of the Los Angeles region in favor of greater Dallas. This is part of an ongoing process of disinvestment in the L.A. region, particularly among industrially related companies, that could presage a further weakening of the state’s middle class economy.