If any state needs to find a formula to spur upward mobility for its residents that state is California. Golden State citizens considered “economically fragile” number in the millions. In fact, with economically fragile defined as residents below the poverty line, just above the poverty line, or with incomes below the median income for their area of the state, the total is 18 million. A population of 18 million is larger than all but four states. How to open the path for upward mobility for such a population?
At the California Economic Summit, a project of California Forward and the California Stewardship Network, standard solutions were offered: better education and good jobs. Easier said than done, especially in an era of swiftly advancing technology.
Paul Granillo of the Inland Empire Economic Partnership is keenly aware of this dynamic. He told the Summit, of the 4.5 million people in the Inland Empire, only 20% have bachelor’s degrees and of the remaining 80%, 35% of those didn’t finish high school. The jobs these people need are facing the rise of the robots, he said. How to prepare for jobs of the future for those who barely finished high school?
Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom highlighted the same problem–workers with lesser education are those replaced by robots. “Technology and globalization detonated at the same time,” he said.
To provide workers with jobs that robots don’t steal is tricky business and educators at the Summit argued that funding education is the answer. University of California president Janet Napolitano said we must imagine and conceptualize what jobs will be available in ten years and steer education in that direction. The education establishment cannot turn as if controlled by a simple light switch, she said. By its nature, the education superstructure moves slowly. Napolitano urged more funding for higher ed, saying it is often put aside in the state budget to fund Medi-Cal and prisons.
Newsom called for radical re-thinking of the education system while advocating for community colleges as an antidote for improving education, warning that business cannot thrive in a world that is failing. But he also said his fellow Democrats must wake up; that the “coastal, latte, elites” must understand the concerns of Inland California.
There was a caution put out by newly elected Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula. While agreeing that education offers a way up, as a doctor he believes in data and outcomes. Fund what works, he advised, but stop funding what doesn’t.
Assembly minority leader Chad Mayes suggested that the pathway to upper mobility was more than education although he promoted a plan to offer incentives for people on CalWorks to pursue education. Mayes said his goal is to empower individuals so that they may move up in the world. But he insisted that the path to upward mobility would involve the legislature taking on big issues such as homelessness, water and infrastructure.
Infrastructure decay is a problem all recognize but there is no agreement on the solutions. The business community is particularly keen on finding solutions to infrastructure improvements. Mayes said that the idea that the supermajority Democrats in the legislature will simply raise taxes for infrastructure is not likely to happen.
Meanwhile, Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman suggested that an infrastructure solution could be fashioned in a bi-partisan way based on the model used to craft the recently successful water bond.
Time to end the talk and get something done. The Economic Summit has highlighted big issues in the state. Now the toughest job of all–constructing solutions that work and are politically viable.