It’s great to be able to brag that California’s economy is now the sixth largest in the world. Thanks to the latest high-tech boom plus a stronger dollar, we’ve leapfrogged France and Brazil.
But it doesn’t really matter to the vast majority of Californians. There are many other rankings that give a fuller picture about our state – and that Californians feel much more in their daily lives.
▪ California has the nation’s highest real poverty rate, which accounts for cost of living, government assistance and child care, medical and tax expenses. According to the latest census figures, that rate is 23.4 percent, and means that nearly 9 million residents are poor.
▪ Our jobless rate ranks 34th in the nation, better than neighboring Arizona and Nevada, but worse than other big states such as Florida, New York and Texas. While the lowest in nine years, the rate was 5.2 percent in May, with nearly 1 million Californians actively looking for work but unable to find it.
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▪ California’s tax burden, including state and local taxes, is sixth highest in the country. We have the highest statewide sales tax, the highest top individual income tax rate, the ninth highest top corporate tax rate and the 20th highest property tax burden.
▪ California has the seventh highest rate of homelessness, according to the most recent report by the National Alliance to End Homelessness. That totaled about 114,000 people in 2014, including more than 71,000 trying to survive on the street.
▪ The state ranks 22nd in a measure of hunger. In 2012-14, the most recent numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 13.5 percent of California households reported very low or low food security.
▪ Our public school education spending per student ranks 35th, according to 2014 figures compiled by the Census Bureau. And the amount – $9,595 per pupil – is about $1,400 less than the national average.
While it’s these rankings that affect Californians most directly, these are also the areas where policymakers and advocates can target improvements.
Among significant steps this year, the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown have increased the minimum wage, lifted a cap on state aid to women on welfare who have more children and are pursuing a $2 billion plan to build housing for the mentally ill homeless.
These are major advances, and the good news is that California, more than most states, has the creativity, leadership and clout to truly move the needle on these frustrating and dispiriting social problems. From family friendlier workplaces to climate issues, no state has pushed harder or made a bigger difference than this one.
Still, with great size and great power comes great responsibility, and we need to own that. So feel good about our place in the global economy. But until the Golden State improves our other rankings, it’s not quite time to really celebrate.