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Blog Post · February 22, 2024

Video: California’s Economic Future

photo - Los Angeles skyline in downtown showing office buildings and traffic

California is a powerhouse of innovation and wealth-building—but it also has the highest poverty rate in the nation. What policies can best support California’s economic leadership and ensure that more of its residents benefit from the state’s success? This is where PPIC’s newly launched Economic Policy Center comes in. Last week, center director Sarah Bohn and a trio of leaders from across the state gathered in Sacramento to talk with Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal about the Golden State’s economic challenges and opportunities.

As Bohn noted, the “macro indicators” of the state’s economy are surprisingly good. In the wake of the pandemic, inflation has eased and the recession that has often been predicted hasn’t happened. She pointed to remote work as “the biggest, fastest transformation of the labor market that we will ever see in our lifetimes—we went from 5% of working hours at home to 60% during the pandemic to 30% now.” This transformation has empowered some workers and businesses, but it has hurt others. “Real resilience,” she said, “feels like resilience to each family in California.”

Paul Granillo, president and CEO of the Inland Empire Economic Partnership, characterized the state economy as “bifurcated”: “When I look at the Inland Empire, I see a young, growing region, a region that’s very vibrant,” he said. Thanks in part to a major shift toward online shopping during pandemic, it is “a goods movement hub for the world.” But “the economy is bifurcated, and the opportunities we have aren’t what they need to be.” He noted that many of the region’s “best and brightest” go elsewhere to pursue educational and career goals.

Cindy Chavez, a Santa Clara County supervisor, sees this bifurcation in Silicon Valley as well. “I’m in the heart of Silicon Valley and I represent some of the poorest people in the state,” she said. “A third of the people in Silicon Valley own their homes—that used to be two-thirds.” Moreover, 60% of her constituents spending more than a third of their incomes on rent or mortgage payments.

Ruben Barrales, Wells Fargo’s senior vice president of external relations, pointed out that business resilience can be difficult to measure across the state because California’s economy is not a monolith: “It’s a conglomerate of regional economies,” he said. Among large corporations, he added, “we’re seeing a little bit of uncertainty that creates downward pressure on budgets and talent acquisition.” As for small businesses, “it’s always been tough to be a small business in California. And I think uncertainty is really making it hard for folks to secure capital.”

What can policymakers do to help California continue to attract businesses and workers? A key issue is connecting workers across the state with good jobs. Bohn stressed the importance of “building on the diversity, the skill, the potential of Californians and connecting that to future opportunity. There are a lot of systems we’ve created for those purposes, and there’s a lot that works.” However, she added, “There’s also a lack of access, and there’s the costliness of education. Even investing in retraining when you’re working in a low-wage job isn’t viable for a lot of people.”

Chavez, a longtime local leader, wants California to act boldly. “The state as a whole has been so incremental in the way we’re addressing really pressing issues that I worry that we’re going to miss the window of opportunity for change,” she said. For Chavez, “the real question is what do we want our society to look like and what are we willing to do to get there?”


PPIC’s Speaker Series on California’s Future invites thought leaders and changemakers with diverse perspectives to participate critically, constructively, and collaboratively in public conversations. The purpose is to give Californians a better understanding of how our leaders are addressing the challenges facing our state.

PPIC is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. PPIC does not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor does it support, endorse, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office. Any opinions expressed by event participants are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect any position of the Public Policy Institute of California.


Economic Growth Economic Mobility Economic Trends Economy future of work Housing income inequality Jobs and Employment labor market Poverty & Inequality remote work Workforce and Training