Beyond campaign rhetoric: What's really needed to secure California's economic future

New report, "From Resistance to Renewal," offers 12-step program for innovation and inclusion

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"The sad truth is that California, like the nation, is a state of 'haves' and 'have nots,' " said report coauthor Chris Benner. "This inequity belies our values. We have the resources to do better. This 12-step program outlines the way to get there."

With the world's fifth-largest economy, California has legitimate bragging rights as it proudly leads the "resistance" to federal attacks on immigrant rights, environmental policy, and progressive values in general. But that's not the whole story.

A new report, "From Resistance to Renewal: A 12-Step Program for Innovation and Inclusion in the California Economy," highlights a state of "haves" and "have nots":

  • The Golden State ranks fourth among U.S. states in terms of income inequality.
  • Real median wages have flatlined since 1980—despite soaring worker productivity.
  • The ratio of black to white household income is lower today than it was in the early 1990s.
  • And the ratio of Latino to white household income has barely budged.

In the report, coauthored by Chris Benner, professor of sociology and director of the Santa Cruz Institute for Social Transformation at UC Santa Cruz, and Manuel Pastor, professor of sociology and director of the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity at the University of Southern California, the authors assert that California needs an economic "reboot" to promote innovation and inclusion within its own borders—and perhaps, as California often does, drag the nation kicking and screaming into a more equitable future, as well.

"The sad truth is that California, like the nation, is a state of 'haves' and 'have nots,' " said Benner. "This inequity belies our values. We have the resources to do better. This 12-step program outlines the way to get there."

The 12 steps include:

  • Promoting innovation
  • Addressing changes related to the aging of the population
  • Empowering workers
  • Encouraging lifelong learning
  • Promoting financial security
  • Supporting inland California
  • Ensuring the success of de-incarceration and re-entry
  • Embracing and integrating "immigrant California"
  • Increasing the supply of affordable housing
  • Improving transit systems for people and goods
  • Taking action on climate change
  • Aligning fiscal and governance systems to build an inclusive economy.

The program is rooted in five tenets of current economic thinking, beginning with the understanding that today's levels of inequality are actually derailing prosperity, because equity is key to achieving sustainable growth.

In addition, racism must be rooted out of economic and social systems. "It's the right and socially just thing to do, as well as the economically smart thing to do, because we need to make full use of all our talents and focus on seeking economic common ground," said Benner.

Finally, protecting the planet and recognizing the aging of the population must be central to policy-making. "Climate change presents new opportunities for partnering with business, and demographic changes present an opportunity to build a 'caring economy' that supports elders, as well as the domestic workers and family members who care for them," he said.