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We’ve been through a lot in the past year. Our state and our nation have been battered by a relentless pandemic, economic chaos, and a long overdue reckoning with racial injustice. Political fault lines grew deeper throughout the election year. Then last week, we experienced the unthinkable—an armed, bloody insurrection in the Capitol. Incited by the president of the United States and his allies, a mob sought to upend the sacred process of certifying a legitimate election.

This event was horrifying on many levels: the violent attack on our democracy, the blatant and unchecked display of white supremacy, and the careless disregard for public health in the midst of a worsening pandemic. In the aftermath, our country is searching for ways to move forward. There must first be meaningful consequences for the people who committed these despicable acts. We must also hold accountable those who misinformed, misled, and misdirected their followers by undermining the results of a free and fair election. For too long, lies and conspiracy theories have kept us from working together to address our nation’s critical challenges. That must now change.

Here at PPIC, we reaffirm our belief in the power of shared knowledge and facts to build a better future for our state. Today, our work feels more important than ever. Despite its great wealth, California has the highest poverty rate in the nation. Even though the state is a leader in environmental protections, many Californians lack access to safe drinking water and live in communities plagued by dangerous pollution. As our tech sector booms, too many of our schoolchildren are on the wrong side of the digital divide. Our public universities are world class, but a majority of our highschoolers never attend them. These are the realities–intensified by the pandemic—that the leaders of our state must confront, with particular focus on how these disparities disproportionately harm communities of color.

We condemn what happened in the Capitol on January 6 in the strongest possible terms. This type of violence must be seen for what it is—an existential threat to our democracy. The path forward will not be easy. It will require confronting uncomfortable truths and deeply-rooted barriers to equity and opportunity. And it will mean establishing the confidence and trust that allow people with different points of view to work honestly, respectfully, and collaboratively on our shared challenges. PPIC is committed to providing the nonpartisan information and civil dialogue that are so essential during this time of upheaval. We are looking forward to the work ahead.

Protecting public health during the pandemic while getting dollars into people’s hands involves partnerships. As cabinet secretary to Governor Newsom, Ana Matosantos has cultivated partnerships at all levels to address the repercussions of COVID-19. Matosantos spoke with Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO, on managing the pandemic crisis and the steps California is taking towards an equitable recovery.

Matosantos said she starts most days with a meeting convened by the chief of staff, where COVID-19 dominates policy discussion. In the December PPIC Statewide Survey, the public mirrored these concerns. “About two in three Californians said they are worried that the coronavirus will negatively affect their family’s finances,” Baldassare said. “Getting the economy back on track will depend on combatting the latest COVID-19 surge.”

The state has partnered with local government, health care providers, businesses, and labor organizations, among others, to confront the rise in cases. “The administration has consistently been working on an approach based on health and data first,” Matosantos said. Data led the state to reissue regional stay-at-home orders. Efforts toward a slow and steady reopening focus on not overburdening the health care system.

A COVID-19 vaccine will likely move the state closer to reopening. California receives the first 327,000 vaccine doses this week, with an estimated 2.1 million doses expected during December. To engage communities who are reluctant about getting the vaccine, such as Black and Latino communities, a community advisory committee will determine a public education strategy; another committee will conduct an independent assessment to verify the vaccine is safe.

Opportunities can arise from a crisis, and Matosantos noted how COVID-19 has accelerated certain policy trends. One example is in higher education, where the switch to distance learning may give students access to more affordable education—and having both in-person and online learning could expand access to institutions. Another example is the unprecedented level of emergency federal funds to address homelessness, which led to Project Roomkey, a program to house unsheltered Californians.

The pandemic has revealed threats as well, such as problems at the Employment Development Department. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program paid out over $100 billion to Californians, but the program battled fraud as a rise in caseloads led to backlogs. Matosantos noted that changes are now in place to ensure effective ID verification, and the state has launched an intensive process to reduce backlogs by the end of January.

And while California is in a better fiscal position than projected in June, strong state revenues reflect the disproportionate impact the recession has had on the lowest-income Californians. Future policy actions by the legislature, therefore, will focus on bringing about a more inclusive recovery.

Talks with her grandmother about living through the Great Depression have offered Matosantos perspective on governing through a recession, and for Matosantos the outlook for California is bright: “We endure and we persist and we come out the other side. What gives me hope is that we’re going to be stronger.”

The November election brought about an enormous set of national firsts when it comes to racial/ethnic diversity. Kamala Harris will be not only the first female but also the first African American and first Asian American vice president, and the 117th US Congress will be the most diverse to date. However, California’s congressional delegation (which is 62% white) has a way to go before it reflects the racial/ethnic diversity of the state population. California state legislators are also disproportionately white, but there have been recent signs of change.

Non-Hispanic white Californians make up 37% of the state’s population but account for 55% of likely voters (according to PPIC Statewide Survey data) and 54% of state legislators. By contrast, nearly four in ten state residents are Latino (39%), while Latinos comprise only 21% of likely voters and 25% of state legislators. Asians and Pacific Islanders make up 15% of the state’s population, 14% of likely voters, and 12% of state legislators. Representation is roughly proportionate for African Americans, who comprise 7% of the state population, 6% of likely voters, and 8% of the legislature.

Change has been slow: chamber rosters included only 16 state legislators of color as recently as 1990, while the 2020 election brought the number to 55 (out of 120). Racial and ethnic diversity differs across party lines: 46% of Democratic state legislators identify as white, compared to 79% of Republicans. And the assembly has historically been more diverse than the senate. The first African American assemblymember, Frederick M. Roberts, was elected in 1918, and the first California Native American, James C. Ramos, was elected in 2018. In the 1960s, Alfred Song-was the first Asian/Pacific Islander elected to both the assembly (1962) and the senate (1966); and Phil Soto and John Moreno, both elected in 1962, were the first Latino assemblymembers in modern history.

Figure - California’s State Assembly Is More Racially/Ethnically Diverse than Its Senate

Public policies are helping diversify California’s elected representation in the state legislation as well as other levels of government. In 1990, Proposition 140 set term limits for state legislators. While it did not immediately modify the makeup of the state legislature, Prop 140 accelerated the trend toward diversity by opening up more seats across the state. The creation of an independent redistricting commission in 2008 also led to a significant increase in the number of districts with enough voters of color to determine the outcome, leading to more diverse representation overall. Finally, the 2002 California Voting Rights Act expanded local representation for communities of color and may be helping create a pipeline for diverse representation in the state legislature and congressional delegation.

Diversity matters at all levels of government. It brings more perspectives and experiences to the delivery of services and the development of policies. It is also important to inspire future leaders and change-makers who see themselves in the faces of their representatives, so that diverse viewpoints and ideas continue to enrich public debate and produce better-informed policies.

In the midst of a global pandemic and recession, Californians have a dim economic outlook. Two in three Californians are expecting bad economic times over the next 12 months, and six in ten expect long periods of widespread unemployment or depression over the next five years. Looking even further into the future, a solid majority of Californians think that when today’s children grow up they will be worse off financially than their parents.

This pessimism mirrors the severity of the current economic crisis. Our December PPIC Statewide Survey finds that four in ten Californians report having their work hours or pay reduced, one in four say they have cut back on food, and one in five say they have been unable to pay a monthly bill.

And while many have been affected, Californians in families making less than $40,000—about one in five households—are bearing the brunt of the fallout. Forty-three percent of lower-income Californians have had work hours or pay reduced, compared to 36% of those with income of $80,000 or more. Lower-income Californians are also substantially more likely to have cut back on meals or missed a monthly bill.

Figure - Many Low-Income Californians Cut Back on Food or Were Unable To Pay Bills

Focusing on households making less than $40,000, we see different experiences across the state’s regions. About half of low-income adults in the Inland Empire (53%), Los Angeles County (50%), and Orange/San Diego Counties (47%) have had their work hours or pay reduced, while about a third in the Central Valley have experienced this.

When it comes to food scarcity, nearly half of low-income adults in the Inland Empire (48%) and the San Francisco Bay Area (47%) report cutting back on food, compared to four in ten elsewhere. And residents of Los Angeles County (40%) are the most likely to have missed a monthly bill, while those in Orange/San Diego Counties (28%) and the San Francisco Bay Area (29%) are the least likely to have done so.

Figure - Experiences of Low-Income Californians Vary across Regions

Other factors like educational attainment or having kids in the household also play a role in the experiences of low-income residents.

Californians with lower levels of educational attainment are more likely to be facing economic insecurity than those who have a college degree. For example, 43% of low-income Californians with a high school degree or less were unable to pay a monthly bill, compared to 20% of those with a college degree.

Parents have been especially hard hit, with more than half of low-income parents who have kids 18 or under saying they have had work hours or pay reduced, have cut back on food, or have missed a monthly bill—compared to fewer than four in ten in other households.

Figure - Low-Income Families with Kids Have Been Especially Hard Hit

A better understanding of how different low-income communities have been affected can help inform the design and implementation of policies that foster an equitable recovery. After a year of unprecedented calamity, it’s clear that many Californians are grappling with the effects of the economic crisis—and that these effects may linger for some time. PPIC will continue to closely track how the pandemic and recession are affecting Californians’ well-being as we move into the new year.

With the release of California’s official Statement of the Vote all of the November election ballots have been counted. California voters made important decisions amid a pandemic and a recession in an election that will go down in history. These election choices stand out in this remarkable year:

  • Voter turnout. A record-breaking 22,047,448 Californians—87.87% of the 25,090,517 eligible adults—were registered to vote before the general election, according to California’s Secretary of State. The 17,785,151 voters who cast ballots is an all-time high for California elections and, at 80.67% of registered voters and 70.88% of eligible adults, reflects participation rates rarely seen in the past 100 years. This follows the record high for ballots cast in the March state primary. Notably, Governor Newsom directed each county’s elections officials to send vote-by-mail ballots for the November election to all registered voters; 73% of California likely voters said they favored this response to the coronavirus outbreak in the May PPIC survey. Many factors increased political engagement, but the key element was the level of enthusiasm in voting for president—which crossed party lines—that we noted in the October PPIC survey. Still, over 10 million California adults either could not vote, did not register to vote, or did not submit their ballots.
  • Top of the ticket. A big win for Democratic challenger Joe Biden over Republican incumbent Donald Trump was predicted in our October PPIC Survey and widely anticipated by both parties. Biden ended up with more supporters in California—an 11,110,250 vote total (63.5%)—than anyone who has ever run for president. Still, the 6,006,429 California votes for Trump (34.3%) outnumbered the total amassed in any of the 50 states—including Florida and Texas. The vote for Trump also exceeded the percent and number of Republicans registered to vote in California. Both the Republican and Democratic shares of the presidential vote grew from 2016, and minor party support shrank, while Trump’s vote grew by 1,522,619 votes. Trump had low approval ratings in California throughout his presidency, but his base remained loyal. The election map points to Trump majorities in the rural northern and inland areas, while exit polls indicate that Biden was heavily favored among African American, Asian American, and Latino voters.
  • Down-ballot races. Democrats continued to dominate federal and state legislative races while Republicans made some notable gains. Out of the 53 US House seats, Democrats won 42 and Republicans won 11. Republicans now hold four seats that flipped in the “blue wave” 2018 mid-term election. In the 80 state assembly races, 60 Democrats, 19 Republicans, and one no party preference candidate were elected. The Republicans gained one assembly seat. In the 20 state senate races, 17 Democrats and 3 Republicans won seats. Democrats gained two state senate seats, including one that they had lost in a 2018 recall election, to maintain the two-thirds supermajority needed to control the legislative process.
  • State propositions. California voters showed an independent streak and their policy preferences were somewhat at odds with state elected officials in their responses to state ballot measures. Voters rejected Proposition 15, a citizens’ initiative to raise commercial property taxes to fund schools and local governments that was endorsed by many of the state’s Democratic leaders. They also rejected Proposition 16, an initiative placed on the ballot by the state legislature that would have restored affirmative action programs in state government and other public institutions. But they passed Proposition 22, a citizens’ initiative that undid state employment legislation (AB5) and allows app-based transportation and delivery drivers to be contractors. They also passed Proposition 25, which was a referendum initiative that overturned a bail reform law recently passed by the legislature (SB10). Voters also approved Proposition 14, a state bond for stem cell research placed on the ballot as a citizen’s initiative, after rejecting Proposition 13 in March, a state bond for public schools and higher education facilities placed on the ballot by the state legislature.

As we close the books on the November election, the top issues on Californians’ minds in the October PPIC survey—the coronavirus outbreak, jobs and the economy, climate change and wildfires, housing affordability and homelessness, and the state budget—remain far from resolved. The December PPIC survey finds Californians in a gloomy mood about the future. The ability to reach consensus on policy solutions that offer a better future for Californians is the challenge of our times. How the state chooses to build on the high level of political engagement in 2020 will be important. The PPIC Statewide Survey will continue to provide a voice for Californians—including likely voters—as presidential leadership changes and the new Congress and California Legislature take up the people’s business in 2021.

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.

Figure - Bipartisan Support for Increased Government Spending on Job Training

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.

Figure - Strong Overall Support To Increase Funding for Child Care Programs, but Partisan Gap Remains

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.

This blog post is part of PPIC’s ongoing work on poverty and inequality and the first in a blog series on income inequality and economic recovery.

High income inequality, stagnant economic mobility, and persistent poverty raise serious questions about California’s economic future—especially for low-income Californians and communities of color who are bearing the brunt of the current crisis. In a new report that will be released tomorrow, we examine the uneven economic fallout and highlight policies that could promote an equitable recovery.

Californians have long recognized the state’s economic divide. Most Californians (64%) think the state is divided into haves and have-nots, and a similar share (63%) say the gap between the rich and the poor is getting larger, according to PPIC surveys. The belief that the state is divided into haves and have-nots is held by solid majorities across age, education, racial/ethnic, and income groups.

Long-term trends in income inequality cannot be disentangled from issues of racial equity. A disproportionate share of people of color are at the lower end of California’s economic spectrum. Since 2005, African Americans and Latinos have made up about 60% of people in the state’s lowest-income families, but just over 40% of the total population. During the recovery from the Great Recession, incomes increased across the board, but racial income gaps between white families and African American and Latino families have seen little improvement.

In the current recession, unemployment remained higher for African Americans (15%) and Latinos (12%), compared to Asian Americans (10%) and whites (9%) in early fall (August to October). We also see evidence that more Latinos have left the labor force than other groups.

Figure - Unemployment Remains Higher Among African Americans and Latinos

Labor market declines have a material effect on families’ well-being. In early fall, Latino (17%), Asian American (14%), and African American (13%) households were more likely to report being behind on rent or mortgage payments than white households (8%). African American (15%) and Latino (14%) households were also more likely to not have enough food to eat.

Figure - Latino and African American Families Are More Likely To Be Behind on Housing Payments or Lack Enough Food

Without deliberate policy action, this uneven economic impact portends a worsening of income inequality and racial disparities. Though state policymakers will likely face heightened fiscal constraints for some time, they still have many options available to promote an equitable recovery. In PPIC’s September survey, six in ten Californians (59%) said the state government should do more to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor.

To promote short-term recovery, support for job growth, business relief, and consumer spending should focus on the hardest-hit sectors, households, and regions. Safety net programs like unemployment insurance, CalFresh, and CalWORKs can provide an immediate backstop—largely federally led—during the recession and early stages of recovery. However, state intervention that goes beyond existing programs will be needed to fully stabilize the economic circumstances of undocumented workers and their families. Estimates suggest that as many as one in ten California workers are undocumented.

To address longstanding economic inequality, policymakers should invest in younger generations. Building capacity, expanding access, and supporting student success at the state’s public higher education institutions—the community colleges, California State University, and the University of California—will be critical. Four-year degrees and postsecondary credentials offer well-documented benefits to earnings and promote upward mobility, especially for low-income Californians, African Americans, and Latinos who have been historically underrepresented in higher education.

To be effective, policy solutions will need to address the barriers perpetuating longstanding racial, socioeconomic, and regional disparities in health, employment, education, and housing. Ensuring that corrective policy actions reach communities that have historically been subject to underinvestment, especially low-income communities and communities of color, is an important first step. Tune into our virtual event at 11 am PT tomorrow, December 8, to learn more about how California policymakers can lay the foundation for an equitable recovery.

This week, our blog is focusing on income inequality and economic recovery. Tomorrow, we take a close look at the disproportionate impact of the current crisis on women.

This page contains links to the Public Policy Institute of California’s survey data that are currently available on the web, organized by year. Survey data are made available in three-month segments about three months after a segment has been completed. For example, survey data from January through March of a given year will be made available in early July of that year.

We are pleased to provide our data to scholars for their research. We hope it will be useful in furthering our collective understanding of California and public opinion in California.

All manuscripts, articles, books, and other papers and publications using Institute’s data should reference Mark Baldassare as Survey Director and the Public Policy Institute of California as the source of the data, and should acknowledge that PPIC bears no responsibility for the interpretations presented or conclusions reached based on analysis of the data.

PPIC Statewide Survey questionnaires and datasets are provided free of charge and are not to be sold to other individuals, institutions, or organizations. For further questions concerning any aspect of the PPIC Statewide Survey, contact us via email and a member of the survey team will get back to you promptly.

Instructions for using the survey data

It’s Election Day, and Californians are very eager to join voters across the nation in choosing a path to a better future. In a year of unprecedented crises, the most important issues on Californians’ minds include COVID-19, the economy, global warming, housing affordability, homelessness, and wildfires, according to the October PPIC survey. Most Californians also say that racism is a national problem today, including a criminal justice system that does not treat people equally regardless of race, according to the July PPIC survey. This year, a confluence of surprising events has led to a unique moment when Californians are expressing great interest in making decisions about their leaders and laws through the power of the ballot box.

The latest statistics from the California Secretary of State point to the most state voters in history (22 million)—about 2.6 million more than in the 2016 presidential election—and the highest percentage of eligible Californians registered to vote in the past 80 years (88%). For the first time, in response to the coronavirus outbreak, all registered voters were sent a vote-by-mail ballot and, as of this writing, about 12 million ballots have been cast by mail or in person. California appears on course to set modern-day records for the number of votes cast and voter turnout.

California’s decision to provide mail-in ballots for all registered voters was the right choice in the eyes of the electorate. Seventy-three percent of likely voters said this was a good idea in the May PPIC survey. Six in ten likely voters say they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the system in which votes are cast and counted in California elections—up substantially from the four in ten  who held this positive view in the September 2019 PPIC Survey. As other states struggle with their voting systems, only about two in ten Californians express very little confidence in their state’s voting system.

In what many describe as the most consequential election in their lifetime, 72% of likely voters are more enthusiastic about voting in this presidential election—a record high in PPIC surveys. Before the last presidential election, 49% were more enthusiastic, according to the October 2016 PPIC survey. Today, solid majorities of likely voters are more enthusiastic about voting in this presidential election across partisan groups (79% Democrats, 74% Republicans, 59% independents). Majorities across traditionally under-represented groups are more enthusiastic about voting this year, and this may help to close the significant gaps in age, income, and race/ethnicity between voters and nonvoters long noted in PPIC reports.

California is a blue state with little drama about the outcome at the top of the ticket. There has been scant movement in the presidential race this year and few voters are undecided in these hyper-partisan times. Nonetheless, voters of all political stripes do not want to miss their chance to weigh in as they have closely watched this race throughout a tumultuous year. Californians’ determination to have a voice in the presidential outcome will have ripple effects for a handful of competitive down-ballot races for congressional, state senate and assembly seats and, importantly, on state and local ballot measures.

Californians will be making major policy decisions as they vote on 12 state propositions on the ballot—ranging from stem cell research bonds (Proposition 14) to replacing money bail (Proposition 25). Six in ten likely voters say that they are satisfied with the way that the initiative process is working today—despite having deep reservations about the outsized role of special interests, the number of state propositions, and the complexity of citizens’ initiatives that are on the ballot. Decisions on these state propositions are especially fraught at a time when many have a pessimistic outlook on the state and the nation. For anyone in need of last-minute help on ballot choices, solid nonpartisan information is available in the state’s voter guide.

PPIC is keeping a close eye on the election outcome and will be exploring its implications in PPIC blog posts and in upcoming PPIC Statewide Surveys. Until then, stay safe and vote!

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