Dan Walters

Observations on California and its politics

Dan Walters: California’s high living costs create high poverty

11/10/2013 12:00 AM

11/09/2013 7:39 PM

Those on the starboard side of California’s political ledger often complain about the state’s high tax burden, its dense regulatory structure and other policies that make the state a difficult place in which to do business.

Those on the port wing dismiss those complaints as self-serving, not to mention selfish, and contend that our taxes and regulations are necessary elements of a civil society.

What’s missing in this perennial debate in the media and the halls of government is the effect of political policies on ordinary Californians.

It’s expensive just to live in California. Not only are taxes high, but the costs of housing, fuel, utilities and other necessities of day-to-day life are high as well. Overall, California ranks in the top 10 percent of states in cost-of-living calculations.

Some of the factors in the state’s high cost of living are beyond the realm of political and governmental policy, but others are not.

Housing costs are high, in part, because of high fees imposed by local governments, for instance.

The state demands that refiners brew gasoline especially for California and we have the highest fuel taxes in the nation; high fuel prices not only affect motorists but also costs of transporting food and other goods.

Our utility rates are high because of official decrees, and will climb higher as private and public power suppliers shift to “renewable” sources in the name of fighting climate change.

Living costs may not be particularly burdensome for those at the top of the economic ladder – the fortunate folks who live in Beverly Hills, Hillsborough or other affluent enclaves. But they do affect those on the middle and lower rungs, as a new Census Bureau report underscores.

California’s official poverty rate of 16.5 percent is somewhat higher than the national rate of 15.1 percent, but under an alternative Census Bureau method of calculating poverty that includes cost of living, our poverty rate soars to – by far – the highest rate of any state. Nearly a quarter of Californians, 23.8 percent, live in poverty.

This is, or should be, a matter of shame, especially for politicians who profess to represent society’s underdogs but who enact policies that raise their struggling constituents’ cost of living, or inhibit the creation of jobs that would lift poor Californians out of poverty.

Nearly 30 years ago, yours truly wrote a book about California and its future, suggesting that despite its egalitarian and upwardly mobile pretensions, the state was evolving into a two-tier society of haves and have-nots.

Unfortunately, that has become its reality and while the state’s media and political elites may sneer at Texas and other states that lack our mild weather and scenic attributes, they should note that Texas’ poverty rate is just two-thirds of California’s and Iowa’s is just one-third.

You can’t eat an ocean view.

About This Blog

Dan Walters' column appears in dozens of California newspapers. He joined the Sacramento Union’s Capitol bureau in 1975 and in 1981 began writing the state’s only daily newspaper column devoted to California political, economic and social events. He and the column moved to The Sacramento Bee in 1984. Contact him at dwalters@sacbee.com or 916-321-1195. Twitter: @WaltersBee


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