No state wears its multicultural veneer more ostentatiously than California. The Golden State’s leaders believe that they lead a progressive paradise. Others see California as deserving of nationhood; it reflects, as a New York Times columnist put it, “the shared values of our increasingly tolerant and pluralistic society.”
In response to the brutal killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced plans to defund the police — despite the city’s steep rise in homicides. San Francisco Mayor London Breed wants to do the same in her increasingly crime-ridden, disordered city. The state has also become a sanctuary for illegal immigrants — complete with driver’s licenses for some 1 million and free health care.
Despite these progressive intentions, Hispanics and African Americans — 45 percent of the total population — fare worse in the state than almost anywhere nationwide.
Based on US Census Bureau cost-of-living estimates, 28 percent of California’s blacks live in poverty, compared with 22 percent nationally. One-third of Latinos, the state’s largest ethnic group, live in poverty, compared with 21 percent nationally.
Since 1990, Los Angeles’s black share of the population has dropped in half. Blacks constitute barely 5 percent of San Francisco’s population, down from 13 percent four decades ago. A recent poll found that 58 percent of African Americans express interest in leaving the state; 45 percent of Asians and Latinos are also considering moving out.
These residents may appreciate California’s celebration of diversity, but they find the state increasingly inhospitable to their needs and their families’.
More than 30 years ago, the Population Reference Bureau predicted that California was creating a two-tier economy, with a more affluent white and Asian population and a largely poor Latino and African American class. Rather than find ways to increase opportunity for blue-collar workers, the state imposed strict business regulations that drove an exodus of the industries — notably, manufacturing and middle-management service jobs — that historically provided gateways to the middle class for minorities.
Following Floyd’s death, even green groups like the Sierra Club issued bold anti-racist proclamations. But they still push policies that only lead to higher energy and housing costs, which hurt the aspirational poor. Many businesses, including small firms, must convert from cheap natural gas to expensive, green-generated electricity, a policy adamantly opposed by the state’s African American, Latino and Asian Pacific chambers of commerce.
Meantime, California’s strict COVID-19 lockdown policies have imperiled small firms. Many restaurants — roughly 60 percent are minority-owned — may never recover, notes the California Restaurant Association. Likewise for many mom-and-pop stores.
In the past, poor Californians could look to the education system to help them advance. But California now ranks 49th nationally in the performance of poor, largely minority, students. San Francisco, the woke epicenter, has the worst scores for black students of any county statewide.
Yet educators often seem more interested in political indoctrination than in improving scholastic results. Half of California high-school students can barely read, but the educational establishment has implemented ethnic-studies courses designed to promote a progressive, even anti-capitalist, and race-centered agenda.
Unless the education system changes, California’s African American and Hispanic students face an uncertain future. A woke consciousness or deeper ethnic identification won’t lead to successful careers. One can’t operate a high-tech lathe, manage logistics or engineer space programs with ideology.
California’s failure to improve conditions for Latinos and blacks was evident even before the lockdowns and recent unrest. What the state’s minorities need is not less policing, or systematic looting of upscale neighborhoods, or steps to reimpose affirmative action, or kneeling politicians — they need policies that empower working-class citizens of all races to ascend into the middle class.
The state’s leaders should prioritize improving middle-class jobs and opportunities, replacing indoctrination with skills acquisition and encouraging local businesses. Considering the nature of California politics, this can happen only if minority Californians demand something different. That could happen if enough of these residents realize that the state’s ruling progressive class is interested in their votes — but apparently not in improving their lives.
Joel Kotkin is the presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. Adapted from City Journal.
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