Indeed, a closer examination shows that the California “boom” is really about one region, the tech-rich San Francisco Bay Area, with roughly half the state’s job growth recorded there since 2007 even though the region accounts for barely a fifth of the state’s population. Outside the Bay Area, the vast majority of employment gains have been in low-paying retail, hospitality and medical fields. And even in Silicon Valley itself, a large portion of the population, notably Latinos, are downwardly mobile given the loss of manufacturing jobs.
According to the most recent Social Science Research Council report, the state overall suffers the greatest levels of income inequality in the nation; the Public Policy Institute places the gap well over 10 percent higher than the national average. And though California may be home to some of the wealthiest communities in the nation, accounting for 15 of the 20 wealthiest, its poverty rate, adjusted for cost, is also the highest in the nation. Indeed, a recent United Way study found that half of all California Latinos, and some 40 percent of African-Americans, have incomes below the cost of necessities (the “Real Cost Measure”). Among non-citizens, 60 percent of households have incomes below the Real Cost Measure, a figure that stretches to 80 percent below among Latinos.
In sharp contrast to the 1960s California governed by Jerry Brown’s great father, Pat, upward mobility is not particularly promising for the state’s majority Latino next generation. Not only are housing prices out of reach for all but a few, but the state’s public education system ranks 40th in the nation, behind New York, Texas and South Carolina. If California remains the technological leader, it is also becoming the harbinger of something else -- a kind of feudal society divided by a rich elite and a larger poverty class, while the middle class either struggles or leaves town.
Nor, unlike during much of the postwar era, can it be said that California represents the demographic future. The state -- even the Bay Area -- generally loses people to other states, particularly those in middle age, according to an analysis of IRS numbers. Brown apologists suggest it’s only the poor and uneducated who are leaving, but it also turns out that California is losing affluent people just as rapidly, with the largest net loss occurring among those making between $100,000 and 200,000.
Perhaps more revealing, the number of children is declining, particularly in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas. Children made up a third of California’s population in 1970, but USC demographer Dowell Myers projects that by 2030 they will compose just a fifth.
Nor is help on the way. Although boomtown San Francisco has maintained its share of millennials, most large California cities have not. And the number of people in their mid-thirties -- prime child-bearing years -- appears to be declining rapidly, notably in the Bay Area. Coastal California is becoming the golden land for affluent baby boomers rather than young hipsters. Surfing dudes will increasingly be those with gray ponytails.
Instead of a role model for the future, the Golden State seems likely to become a cross between Hawaii and Tijuana, a land for the aging rich and their servants. It still remains a perfect social model for a progressive political regime, but perhaps not one the rest of the country would likely wish to, or afford, to adopt.