This post is part of a blog series on income inequality and economic recovery. You can view all these posts on our poverty and inequality page.
The effects of the current recession are concentrated among low-income workers, African Americans, Latinos, and women. Their prospects for economic recovery are made all the more challenging by long-term trends of high income inequality and low economic mobility. How policymakers respond to the economic challenges of this time will be consequential for all Californians—but especially those who struggle to make ends meet or climb the economic ladder.
In a new report released earlier this week, we identify job training and child care as two policy levers that could expand economic opportunity in both the short and long run. PPIC’s December survey found broad support among Californians for increasing government funding for these two kinds of programs.
This recession will likely lead to structural changes in the economy, and some hard-hit sectors may never fully recover. Providing job training to workers who may need to transition will be crucial, especially for mid- and late-career workers who may otherwise be at risk of leaving the labor force and retiring early. However, in PPIC’s survey, just 53% of employed Californians say their job provides educational or training assistance, with lower-income workers less likely to have access to training: 33% for those with household income under $40,000, compared to 60% for those with household income of $80,000 or more.
An overwhelming majority of Californians across party lines favor increasing government funding for job training programs so that more workers have the skills they need for today’s jobs. This policy receives widespread support, with more than three in four Californians in favor across regions and age, income, education, and racial/ethnic groups.
Ensuring that workers have in-demand skills will require new investments in local programs, public-private partnerships, and the state’s higher education system. Community colleges play an especially important role in delivering low-cost job training throughout the state’s diverse regions. Over the long term, providing all Californians access to the full range of educational opportunities—be it career education, associate or bachelor’s degrees, or postgraduate credentials—is necessary for weathering future downturns and narrowing the economic divide.
Even before this economic crisis, access to high-quality child care was a challenge for working families. Today, remote K–12 schooling and the closures of child care centers threaten to affect labor force participation over the coming years—especially among women. In PPIC’s survey, one in five lower-income parents say they worry about the cost of child care every day or almost every day.
We recommend that policymakers offer subsidies or expand existing child care programs and family leave if many Californians continue to forgo employment to care for dependents. Nearly eight in ten Californians—including more than seven in ten across demographic groups—favor increasing government funding so that child care programs are available to more lower-income working parents. Notably, Democrats (90%) and independents (81%) are far more likely than Republicans (47%) to favor increasing funding.
In addition to encouraging parents’ full participation in the labor force, high-quality child care is an important investment in future generations that can narrow the economic divide over time. There is strong evidence that quality early learning yields substantial long-term benefits in the form of increased educational attainment, earnings, and health later in life—while offering a strong return on state investments.
Policymakers’ decisions in the coming months will affect whether California’s recovery is an equitable one that addresses the needs of the most affected workers and regions—and could have long-term consequences for the state’s economic future. Whether the funding for different policies and programs comes from federal or state sources—or both—is an important consideration. PPIC will continue to examine Californians’ views on economic and policy issues, as well as the policy options that can broaden opportunity in the state.