The Democratic Legislature’s Contribution To California Poverty

Tony Quinn
Political Analyst

In the final days of the legislative session the Democratic leadership will do everything it can to increase poverty within California. That is the consequence of its fixation of fighting global climate change and saving the state’s faltering cap and trade program. These actions only add to poverty in California, a reality everyone knows and no one wants to address.

The division in California is no longer between Democrats and Republicans; in one party California the Republicans have pretty much disappeared as a viable political force. Nor is it between north and south as the old water wars were. It is now between a wealthy coastal elite making money in the high technology industries and the increasingly impoverished working classes in the major cities and inland counties. They are made poorer by the rapid decline of blue collar and manufacturing jobs in California, and the state’s focus on climate change, not economic development, contributes to this.

Professor Severin Borenstein of UC Berkeley, an energy expert who has written that California’s cap and trade program” has delivered little reduction in greenhouse gas emissions”, puts the issue in its bluntest terms: “The main driver in greenhouse gas emissions is the economy. More jobs and more output requires generating more electricity and burning more fuel, the largest drivers of emissions in California.”

California Democrats have simply decided blue collar jobs must be sacrificed to save the earth. They get away with this because the wealthy coastal elite communities, where the economy is based on information age industries, are not really affected, so there is no political priced to pay.

This is indeed ironic because it was the rise of a new middle class bolstered by good blue collar jobs that made California a wealthy and attractive place to live in the post-war years.

Professor Richard Morrill, writing in NewGeography, traces poverty within the various states over the past half century. In 1959, California’s poverty rate was 12 to 15 percent of the population; by 1979, this had fallen to 10 to 12 percent. But by 2010, California’s poverty rate had grown to 16 percent, and when adjusted for cost of living to 24 percent. As Professor Morrill puts it, “Big, rich mega-urban California earns the nation’s highest poverty rate as well as in total numbers (24%).”

And California poverty is on the upswing. The Public Policy Institute of California, that has done some pioneering work in state demographics, noted in its December 2015 report that Californians living in poverty had risen from 12 percent in 2007 to over 16 percent by 2014. The California Poverty Measure, a joint effort of PPIC and the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, finds that the actual poverty rate in California is 21 percent, and that four of ten Californians live at or near the poverty line. Were it not for California’s generous social safety net of welfare programs for the poor, the poverty rate would be much higher.

So what is the legislature’s answer to growing poverty: let’s make it worse. Sometimes they do it directly; when the legislature passed the plastic bag ban, now under referendum, they put the makers of plastic bags – most Latinos in Los Angeles County – out of work. Other times their fixation on climate change indirectly kills what’s left of blue collar jobs.

Climate change is global; that’s the whole earth, a big place and California is but a small part. Major market changes in this country have actually reduced greenhouse gas emissions; fracking for natural gas has made natural gas more efficient to burn than coal, and it emits far less greenhouse gasses. According to the Energy Information Administration, shifting to natural gas has significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions since 2005.

On the other hand, cap and trade, the heart of California’s climate change policy, not only does not work but it has no impact on global greenhouse gas emissions. However, it is a signal to anyone thinking of starting a new manufacturing business in California to stay away. It is no wonder that the 2016 Directory of California Manufacturers, an industrial database and directory published by Manufacturers News, found in 2016 that “manufacturing jobs in California declined over the past year.”

A closer look at poverty finds that it is highest in urban California. PPIC’s Poverty in California found that Los Angeles County leads the state with 25.7 percent of residents living in poverty. That’s probably no surprise as Los Angeles also has the state’s largest concentration of Latinos, with more than 4.6 million living there according to the 2010 census. And Latino poverty is significantly higher than any other racial/ethnic group, at 30 percent according to PPIC.

California’s Latino population is heavily first and second generation. The way out of poverty for newly arrived immigrants has always been through good blue collar jobs. But California does not produce them anymore. Instead Latinos, and our African American population, are increasingly forced into low paying service and manual labor jobs, or simply subsist on welfare.

Even more surprising is that newly empowered Latino politicians seem to have no interest in alleviating this poverty. Senate President Prop Tem Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), the cheerleader for tough climate change legislation, represents one of the most impoverished Latino communities in Los Angeles, as does new Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount).   What are these Democratic leaders, or Gov. Jerry Brown, doing to create good manufacturing jobs that can be filled by Latinos hoping to rise on the economic ladder? Name one thing, you can’t.

But even stranger is the lack of interest on the part of De Leon and Rendon, the first all Latino legislative leadership team in California history, in Latino economic development. Historically ethnic leaders at least took care of their own people – the roguish Irish mayor of Boston, James Michael Curley, produced so many goodies for his Boston Irish constituents they re-elected him mayor in 1945 when he was serving a prison term.

On the other hand, De Leon, and to a lesser degree Rendon, seem mesmerized by the coastal elites who could care less about good blue collar jobs; it hardly affects their lives in their gated communities where often the only Latino they interact with is the man manicuring their lawns. De Leon’s response to this reality is to spend part of a $1.4 billion slush fund of current cap and trade money on poor people. Problem is, of course, that since cap and trade is collapsing, there will no money available in the future.

Let’s contrast this lack of action with the very conservative Republicans who have run Texas for the past two decades. Texas and California are the nation’s two mega-states and they have similar demographics. In 1959, more than 30 percent of Texans lived in poverty, including the huge Latino population in the Rio Grande Valley. By 2010, the Texas poverty rate, adjusted for cost of living, was well below that of California, and in the past two decades Texas has diversified its economy away from dependence on oil and gas, so it has been able to weather the drop in oil prices.

In California, Tom, Steyer, a San Francisco hedge fund billionaire and Democratic money bags, is running television ads this month blaming the oil industry for a myriad of California’s ills. Actually the oil industry’s main contribution to California is refining gasoline, that California workers must use to travel long miles to their jobs because we have less and less affordable housing where the jobs are, and over pothole ridden roads since we spend so little on our infrastructure.

Nothing in Steyer’s television ads, which are part of his planned run for governor in 2018, show any interest in creating jobs, and in fact no Democrat is running on job creation this year. None of this matters in the year of Republican Trump meltdown. But with a new group of Latino legislators likely to be elected this fall, one has to wonder if this question will ever be asked: what are we doing to alleviate poverty in our Latino communities, or in California as a whole.

The response from the Democratic governor and legislature will probably be more cap and trade, more focus on global climate change, and no interest in job creation. So Californians should prepare themselves for more poverty.

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