Falling incomes turn California into modern-day Dust Bowl

Susan Shelley

Columnist and member of the editorial board of the Southern California News Group, and the author of the book, “How Trump Won.”


Nearly 60 percent of California voters with children living at home agree with the statement, “my children will have a better future if they leave California.” More than 75 percent now think “earning enough income to enjoy a middle-class lifestyle is becoming almost impossible in my part of California.” In Los Angeles County, it’s 87 percent.

That’s from a new survey by the California Chamber of Commerce. And if you think those numbers are discouraging, the numbers in a just-released report from the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation are even worse.

The LAEDC projects that employment in L.A. County will grow by 334,000 jobs over the next five years, but don’t stop your children from leaving California for a better future quite yet. Only 5 percent of those jobs will require a bachelor’s degree, and less than 4 percent will require a master’s, doctoral or professional degree.

Over 70 percent of the estimated 334,000 new jobs in Los Angeles County will require a high school diploma or less. “The highest number of overall openings,” the study says, will be in “food preparation and serving,” “waitresses and waiters,” “cashiers and retail salespersons,” and “office clerks and customer service representatives.” It also projects a healthy job market for “laborers and material movers.”

Most of those jobs are projected to pay less than the county’s median wage of $39,250, most far less, especially in categories with high levels of part-time employment.

If you feel like it’s been decades since your household had a general sense of financial well-being, the study says you’re exactly right.

“While household incomes have increased steadily for the last 25 years, from $34,965 in 1990 to $59,134 in 2015, inflation-adjusted household incomes have fallen steadily and are still 6 percent below where they were in 1990,” the LAEDC reports.

Some of this problem can be explained by looking at the jobs that are going away and the jobs that are being created. For example, in the last year, manufacturing jobs in L.A. County declined 2.4 percent to 352,000. Government jobs increased 2.3 percent to 573,100.

The government doesn’t have any money of its own. It doesn’t create wealth through productive enterprise. It pays its bills by taking money from people who do create wealth through productive enterprise, leaving them less money to run their enterprises.

It’s a vicious cycle. The money that goes to pay the government can’t be used to hire people or raise wages. And when jobs don’t pay enough for people to survive, the government provides more assistance, and then it needs more money.

If California was governed with good sense, every law, regulation and policy would be held up to the light to see if it creates jobs or costs jobs. Instead, we have government officials who think regulating cow emissions is wise, but encouraging oil drilling (average annual wage: $130,781) is foolish. We have an anti-sprawl law that discourages new home construction in affordable areas. We have a high-speed rail authority traipsing around the state with million-dollar drawings of tunnels.

This disconnect between government and reality has real consequences for real people. The Census Bureau says 16.6 percent of L.A. County residents were living in poverty in 2015, and the LAEDC thinks that’s likely understated because of a relatively higher cost of living. Last year, over 30 percent of county households earned less than $35,000 in income.

Painfully, a lot of people who took on student loans to prepare themselves for a job market that was expected to reward that investment are instead buried in debt. The U.S. Department of Education now has a growing program of Income-Driven Repayment plans to help borrowers who received their loans directly from the federal government. IDR plans set payments as a percentage of the borrower’s income, extend the repayment period from 10 years to 25 years, and forgive whatever balance is due at the end of that time period.

There are no winners here. Students who took out huge loans and can’t find good jobs are not winners. Students who didn’t take out huge loans and now discover they could have had a partial taxpayer bailout are not winners. Taxpayers are not winners.

Thanks to state policies that promote blithering idiocy over high-wage jobs, lower energy costs and affordable home construction, California has become the modern Dust Bowl of the United States, the place people leave because they want a better life.

Californians deserve a better life right here.

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