Kathleen Miles is the executive editor of Noema Magazine. She can be reached on Twitter at @mileskathleen.
California has both the most ultra-wealthy individuals and the highest poverty rate of any U.S. state, according to recent reports.
“This chasm is growing day by day, year by year,” Larry Gerston, professor of political science at San Jose State University, said to The Huffington Post. “Those at the top in California are just as happy as a clam. Their incomes are going up much faster than anyone else’s.”
In 2013, the Golden-for-some State was home to the most — 12,560 — ultra-wealthy individuals, according to a new report by Wealth-X, a think tank focusing on wealthy people. New York had the second most, with 8,945 ultra-wealthy individuals. Wealth-X defines ultra-wealthy as having a net worth of at least $30 million.
California gained even more ultra-wealthy individuals in 2013 than any other state, adding an additional 1,605 residents. Florida gained the second most, an additional 565 more than in 2012.
But California also has the highest poverty rate in the nation, according to an analysis released Wednesday by the U.S. Census Bureau. Nearly one in four Californians — about 24 percent of the overall population — lives in poverty. Behind California, the District of Columbia and Nevada have the second and third highest poverty rates, according to the analysis. Across the U.S., about 16 percent of Americans live in poverty.
The census analysis considered income, government benefits, taxes and cost of living. The official poverty threshold for a two-adult-two-child family was $23,283 in 2012.
What to do about these grim statistics? For one, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law in September the highest minimum wage in the nation, to be rolled out over the next three years. California’s minimum wage will bump from $8 to $9 an hour in July 2014, and then up to $10 an hour in January 2016.
Brown also fought tooth and nail last year to get voters to pass Proposition 30, which raises income taxes on the wealthiest Californians to help fund K-12 schools, community colleges and state universities.
The measure is desperately needed, as California’s education system ranks 36th in the nation, with a C grade, in Quality Count’s 2013 report. California educates about one-eighth of the nation’s students.
But Prop 30 is just a temporary fix — a “band-aid,” Gerston said. California’s education system desperately needs more funds, and the state’s poor need more social services. And getting initiatives passed that address these issues may prove to be an uphill battle, as Gerston pointed out.
Part of the problem is that those at the bottom don’t vote nearly as much as those at the top, Gerston said. In California, this is exacerbated because recent immigrants are even less likely to vote.
But Gerston is optimistic that democracy will catch up with immigration. As more immigrants have been here for second and third generations, percentages of Latinos and Asian American voters have crept up, he said.
“You will see the legislature filled with more and more people reflecting the state’s demographics,” he said. “The voting turnout will eventually be a majority of non-whites.”
And those non-whites and low-income Californians will vote in their own interest, as voters always do, Gerston said. “Give this another 20 years, and you’re going to see a state that’s markedly different.”