You may have missed it, but a new legislative caucus has just been announced to address California’s status as the worst-in-the-nation state for poverty.
With visions of Upton Sinclair dancing in their heads, the “End Poverty in California” legislative caucus is the brainchild of former Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs. It will be helmed by new Assembly Majority Leader Isaac Bryan, D-Los Angeles, with 9 of his Assembly and Senate colleagues having joined to date.
The caucus launched with the premiere of a slickly produced documentary featuring Bryan and Tubbs.
Tubbs told Politico that he sees EPIC’s role as being “kind of an outside agitator and policy shop for their allies in the Assembly and the Senate” and that the group aims to let lawmakers “know there will always be a bunch of annoying people talking about poverty.”
But it’s the ideas, not the people behind them, that are annoying.
Aside from the PR for Tubbs and Bryan, the film’s trailer makes clear that EPIC is not going to foster a serious discussion about helping Californians climb the economic ladder. Rather, EPIC promotes policies that don’t work and would trap more Californians perpetually in poverty.
Let’s start with basic income. Promoted by Oprah and the subject of an HBO documentary, Tubbs launched his career promoting a Stockton “basic income” experiment during his tenure as mayor – which came to an unceremonious end with his defeat by Republican Kevin Lincoln in 2020.
Tubbs experiment handed out $500 in monthly basic income checks, which Damon Dunn called “fool’s gold” in his PRI book Punting Poverty, as being extra cash for people in addition to an expanded government-funded safety net and adopting policies like rent control and an increased minimum wage.
At the time, we wrote that “adopting this agenda – in addition to UBI – would have an incredibly negative impact on entrepreneurial investment and job opportunities in Stockton and other economically-disadvantaged cities.”
EPIC promotes “a worker-centered ecosystem that protects the right to organize” and “changing an upside-down tax code that rewards the rich, misses the middle, and penalizes the poor.”
Ironically, this would include laws like California’s AB 5 restrictions on gig work, which PRI’s Kerry Jackson has described as a “a cruel law that for no good reason can stop people from earning income.”
California, of course, already has a $15 minimum wage, and there are movements to create an $20 or higher minimum wage. Enacting so-called “living wage” proposals would worsen the state’s cost-of-living problem, create unsustainable costs for new businesses and are not-worker friendly, Jackson argues. A separate push to create a $25 minimum wage for all health care workers could lead to more state hospital closures, writes PRI’s McKenzie Richards.
Altogether, the EPIC policy agenda would exacerbate the outflow of jobs, opportunity, tax revenue and people out of the state. As Jackson and Dr. Wayne Winegarden observed in PRI’s “California Migrating” study, “the state’s increasingly detrimental policy environment creates numerous obstacles that reduce people’s quality of life and inhibits their ability to prosper.” The EPIC policy agenda doubles down on failed policies that hurt the poor and working class they aim to help.
In the Breaking Down Barriers to Opportunity series, PRI noted that is government-created barriers to opportunity of the type that EPIC promote that “are standing in the way of immigrants and low-income entrepreneurs launching a startup to accessing credit and capital to grow their business and hire more workers.”
“Breaking down these barriers and embracing free-market reforms,” as Winegarden writes, “are perhaps the most important things we can do to lift people out of poverty.”
If Tubbs, Bryan and his colleagues are serious about ending poverty in California, they’d pick up a copy of Breaking Down Barriers to Opportunity and work on embracing market-based reforms to alleviate poverty – and spare us from yet another documentary that won’t help anyone in need.
Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s vice president of marketing and communications.