“The California Chasm” is a challenge that threatens to transform the nation’s most populous state into a shadow of its former self. Once a place where people came together to realize fortunes, remake their lives and attain their piece of the American Dream, California has become a state saddled with sharp differences in social, economic and health outcomes due to race, place and class.
Here is a set of bold recommendations for how California can rebuild its middle class and lay the foundation for a future that reclaims the bright promise of the Golden State.
Raise the Floor
1. Raise the Minimum Wage, Stop Wage Theft and Expand the Right to Sick Days: These measures are not sufficient to rebuild our middle class, but they are absolutely necessary as first steps.
2. Encourage Employment for the Formerly Incarcerated: To reflect our state’s values of opportunity and reinvention, we must ease market reentry for those who have been convicted and served their time.
3. Expand the Rights of Immigrants: We cannot wait for reform from Washington – the health of our economy and communities requires us to act now.
4. Crack Down on the Misclassification of Workers: The law-breaking by employers is undermining our system of justice while also leaving millions of workers behind.
Grow the Economy Together
5. Fight Climate Change With Good Green Jobs: The two greatest challenges of our time – global warming and economic inequality – can and must be addressed together.
6. Close Proposition 13’s Corporate Loopholes: It’s time to ride the third rail of California politics and restore fairness to our tax system.
7. Promote Affordable Housing: California’s rising rents and home prices must be met with rigorous legislation as well as major investment.
8. Invest Big in Public Transit: Large-scale, sustained investment in clean public transit is essential for creating livable communities and can generate a number of high-quality jobs.
Create a Path to the Middle
9. Provide Free Community College Education: California should take a page from President Obama’s playbook and open up our most important higher education institutions to everyone in a way that removes financial barriers.
10. Close the Wealth Gap: It’s not enough to raise wages – we need to enable Californians to build their wealth and their personal safety nets.
11. Strengthen Retirement Benefits: With nearly half of Californians set to retire into economic hardship, we need bold action, including contributions from a much broader set of employers.
12. Renew Our Democracy: We need a thriving democracy to ensure broadly shared economic prosperity, and in California that means fostering civic engagement and finding creative solutions that remove barriers to participating in the political process.
We hope this list is inclusive but we know it is not exhaustive. Every day, the creativity of Californians is demonstrated as they open new businesses, devise new technologies and experiment with new ways to engage the public and shift public policy. And so we see this as an invitation to readers and leaders to comment, discuss and offer new approaches to rebuilding California’s economy.
Such a conversation is essential not only for our future prosperity but also for our democracy. After all, one of the most serious threats inequality poses is to our political system. When wealth rather than voice determines the directions our government will take, when policies tilt the playing field to reproduce disadvantage rather than to spread opportunity, that is a recipe for the erosion not just of the middle class but of our hard-won democratic rights.
And the only antidote is more debate, more organizing and more participation. Indeed, civic engagement is the lifeblood of any effort to restore shared prosperity – and we hope that by raising tough issues, offering compelling stories and proposing real solutions, we can jumpstart the civic conversation and action we need to restore the luster of the Golden State.