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Blog Post · May 16, 2023

Improving Lives through Public Policy

photo - Traffic in Front of California State Capitol Building

One of the most gratifying aspects of our work at PPIC is the ability to show—through data and analysis—how policy choices impact the daily lives of Californians. In our fast-paced, ever-changing information landscape it can be hard to find a clear, reliable, evidence-based set of common facts about key policy issues. That’s where PPIC comes in.

A case in point: Our recent work on public spending on health insurance. For years, our nation has debated the value of health insurance and how—or whether—to implement more inclusive policies. California has been a leader in this area since the federal Affordable Care Act passed in 2014. Since then, massive public investments in health coverage have given millions of Californians better access to physical and financial well-being. Our researchers estimate that in 2021 Medi-Cal kept up to 2.4 million Californians under 65 out of poverty (assuming that all participants would be uninsured if they did not have Medi-Cal coverage). In the absence of Medi-Cal, poverty among young children could rise from 7% to as much as 16.9%. As this work makes clear, the effects of public health insurance in California are deep and wide-ranging.

In another realm, PPIC examined the state’s efforts to help families manage college costs. The PPIC Statewide Survey has shown that most Californians worry about the cost of a college education, even as they want their children to attain a bachelor’s or graduate degree. Financial aid can help alleviate the burden, but high school students have been leaving money on the table by neglecting to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the California Dream Act Application (CADAA). One recently passed state law tackles this issue by mandating that every graduating high school senior fill out one of these two aid forms. Our recent analysis shows that in just the first year of implementing this law, the number of first-time students filling out these forms has jumped 12%. For California’s students and their families, the potential impact of these gains could be life changing.

Thoughtful policies like these lead to vast improvements in individual physical, educational, and economic well-being. And society as a whole is also better off, thanks to lower unemployment, less demand for public assistance programs, lower incarceration, and greater civic engagement. Our job at PPIC is to identify, examine, and evaluate such laws and policies, to ensure that California is serving its dynamic and highly diverse population in the most efficient, effective, and equitable ways possible.

Speaking of state laws, I’m very much looking forward to my upcoming conversation with California Attorney General Rob Bonta on May 22 in Sacramento. We will discuss his priorities as the state’s top lawyer and his strategies for safeguarding communities while furthering the rights of Californians. Please join us in person or online for this exciting event. Hope to see you there!


Affordability Criminal Justice financial aid Health & Safety Net Higher Education Medi-Cal Political Landscape Poverty & Inequality PPIC News unemployment