Los Angeles Times readers might think the first night of the Republican National Convention was nothing more than a non-stop attack on California. In its coverage of the first evening’s events, the paper posted the headline “RNC speakers paint California as a dangerous dystopia.” Missing from the report were rebuttals to the claims made by the speakers. Maybe that’s because it’s too difficult to deny the truth.
For the record, California is not a dystopia for all. A very thin slice of the 39 million in the state is quite wealthy and comfortable. These elites can root on the riots in radical-chic fashion because they are insulated from their consequences. They’re happy to condemn economic inequality while standing behind the policies and policymakers that have created and exacerbated the disparities. And they have no need to bother their own thoughts about the effects of a political environment that is driving out the middle class.
While the Democrats and media have charged the president and his party with drafting a “dark” agenda, Kimberly Guilfoyle, Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend and former wife of Gov. Gavin Newsom, noted in her convention speech that things aren’t particularly bright in California.
“If you want to see the socialist Biden-Harris future for our country, just take a look at California,” she said. “It is a place of immense wealth, immeasurable innovation, an immaculate environment, and the Democrats turned it into a land of discarded heroin needles in parks, riots in streets and blackouts in homes.”
For far too many, living in the former land of opportunity is a grim experience.
No other state has as much poverty. At 18.1%, California has the highest supplemental poverty rate in the country, outside of Washington, D.C., where the rate is one-tenth of a percentage point higher. The U.S. average is 13.1%.
Housing in California is so expensive that it’s either out of reach or is causing financial hardships for millions. According to national property database company ATTOM Data Solutions of Irvine, six of the 10 counties “where buying a home is least affordable” are in California. Five of 10 most unaffordable housing markets are also found in this state. For some, this means no housing at all. The unaffordability is in part why California is “home” to 25% to 30% of the country’s homeless even though the state makes up only 12% of the nation’s population.
Only in Hawaii and Washington, D.C., is the cost of living higher than it is in California. On top of that, Golden Staters are burdened with the highest state income tax rate, some of the steepest state and local sales taxes, and the highest gasoline and diesel taxes in the nation.
Energy costs are just as painful. And unnecessarily so. Due to government mandates, electricity prices are 46% higher for residential customers, and 69% for businesses, than the national average. But often the electricity isn’t even on. Between 2008 and 2017, California experienced 4,297 power outages. The next closest state was Texas, with 1,603. And it’s only going to grow darker as reliable fossil fuels are forbidden and weather-reliant renewables take their place as electricity producers.
Barely afloat working classes are being pulled under by job-killing, freedom-robbing Assembly Bill 5, which practically outlaws freelance and independent contract work. Rather than create a workers’ paradise, it crushed many of the 2 million Californians who rely on the “gig economy” for supplemental, and sometimes primary, income. They want to work, but their jobs have been outlawed.
Joel Kotkin, a Chapman University professor and executive director of the Urban Reform Institute, sees California as “the progenitor of a new form of feudalism characterized by gross inequality and increasingly rigid class lines.” Despite “progressive” policies that are supposed to benefit most those who have the least, “Hispanics and African-Americans – some 45% of California’s total population – fare worse in the state than almost anywhere nationwide.”
At the same time, the middle class no longer feels welcome and continues to flee. Both small and large businesses, whose owners and executives are equally unwelcome, are escaping California’s blue state tax and regulatory clutches, and relocating in states where public policy is less hostile to their operations.
So, yes, many are living in a West Coast dystopia. Washington and the rest of the country would be smart to impose a policy quarantine that would stop the spread of bad ideas at the state line.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.