Twenty months after the onset of the COVID pandemic, Californians have mixed reviews of the state’s economy. Fewer than half (47%) say the state will see good economic times in the next 12 months, and nearly seven in ten (69%) say the gap between the rich and the poor is growing. At a virtual event last week, PPIC research fellow Dean Bonner discussed these and other findings from our November survey on economic well-being with PPIC president and CEO Mark Baldassare.
With California and the nation in the midst of the “Great Resignation,” historically high levels of job openings and wage growth are promising economic signs. But the recovery has not yet reached many lower-income Californians. Adults with incomes of less than $20,000 are nearly three times more likely than those with incomes of $80,000 or more to say their finances are worse than a year ago (37% vs. 13%).
African Americans, Latinos, and lower-income Californians are also more likely than others to report that they or someone in their household cut back on food, put off a doctor’s visit, or were unable to pay a monthly bill in the last year. “These lived experiences translate into enhanced stressed,” said Bonner, with lower-income Californians more likely to say they worry every day or almost every day about health care costs and housing costs.
Most employed Californians are satisfied with their job—yet fewer than four in ten are “very” satisfied. Baldassare emphasized what he called an “advancement gap,” or a lack of “opportunities for advancement in the job and opportunities for training and learning” that could lead to better-paying jobs.
Amid recent labor strikes, an overwhelming majority of Californians (81%) agree that it is important for workers to organize so that employers do not take advantage of them. “All institutions today are going through a crisis of trust,” and that includes employers, said Baldassare. “It’s a crisis that doesn’t have red or blue stripes.” Ninety-one percent of Democrats, 79% of independents, and 61% of Republicans say it is important for workers to organize.
When it comes to government policies that could improve economic well-being, strong majorities support more funding for job training (81%), a public health care option (77%), more funding for child care (76%), and an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (72%). However, Bonner noted that job training was the only policy to garner bipartisan support (92% Democrats, 80% independents, 60% Republicans).
One of the survey’s most sobering findings is that 63% of Californians believe today’s children will be worse off than their parents. But as Baldassare pointed out, “The future of the economy and the future of our state are very much open questions. We hope this survey . . . will spark conversations about how to make California a better place for more Californians to work and to live.”