Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Walters: California Experiments With Social Democracy
dan_walters
By Dan Walters, CalMatters Commentary
Published 3 years ago on
October 4, 2021

Share

California, as everyone should know by now, has the nation’s highest rate of poverty as determined by the Census Bureau when the cost-of-living is included in the calculation.

While family incomes in California are not particularly low vis-à-vis those in other states, our extremely high living costs, especially for housing, mean those incomes do not stretch as far as they would elsewhere.

Newsom Vows to Reduce CA’s High Poverty Levels

Dan Walters

Opinion

The Public Policy Institute of California takes the issue a bit further by calculating how many Californians are living in near-poverty, using methodology similar to that of the Census Bureau.

Altogether, more than a third of the state’s nearly 40 million residents experience severe economic distress. They are, for the most part, workers in low-pay jobs and their families, and their plight has been exacerbated by the nearly two-year-long COVID-19 pandemic, which has hit them the hardest both medically and economically.

Backed by unions, Gov. Gavin Newsom and his fellow Democrats have vowed to reduce the state’s high levels of poverty and income disparity and this year generated a bushel basket of legislation they contend will narrow the gaps.

California Moves Toward ‘Social Democracy’ Model

California is, in effect, testing long-held beliefs of those on the political left that America should move closer to the European model of “social democracy” by expanding supportive public services and empowering workers in their dealings with employers.

The former include increasing eligibility for Medi-Cal, the state’s health care system for the poor which already covers more than a third of California’s residents, expanding early childhood education to both improve learning outcomes and free more parents to work, and increasing spending on housing for low- and moderate-income families.

“California is holding corporations accountable and recognizing the dignity and humanity of our workers, who have helped build the fifth-largest economy in the world.”

– California Governor Gavin Newsom

The latter is a variety of bills that impose new workplace and compensation standards on industries that employ large numbers of low-paid workers, most notably garment production, agriculture and the ever-increasing distribution centers operated by Amazon and other big corporations.

“We cannot allow corporations to put profit over people,” Newsom said as he signed legislation to ease production quotas in Amazon’s massive “fulfillment centers.”

“The hardworking warehouse employees who have helped sustain us during these unprecedented times should not have to risk injury or face punishment as a result of exploitative quotas that violate basic health and safety,” Newsom added.

“California is holding corporations accountable and recognizing the dignity and humanity of our workers, who have helped build the fifth-largest economy in the world,” Newsom said later as he signed a bill banning piecework pay in the Los Angeles-centered garment industry.

California will be the first state to bar mega-retailers from firing warehouse workers for missing quotas that interfere with bathroom and rest breaks. The legislation signed Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021 by Newsom grew from Amazon’s drive to speed goods to consumers. (Shutterstock)

Newsom Also Signs Bills to Expand Worker Protections

Newsom also signed bills to expand protections for household domestic workers, raise minimum pay for disabled workers, increase criminal penalties for “wage theft” by employers, and provide farm workers with protective gear for wildfire smoke.

It has not been, however, a 100% sweep for union-backed legislation. Newsom vetoed a bill to allow mail ballots in elections for union organization of farm workers and another that would have expanded paid family leave.

Expanding government services will, of course, cost the state billions of dollars, which it can afford now as income taxes pour into its treasury, but whether it can be sustained is questionable. California is inordinately dependent on high-income taxpayers, which means its revenues plummet during economic downturns.

New benefits for workers, meanwhile, will increase employers’ costs, which could drive some to shift operations and jobs to lower-cost locales. The garment industry is particularly competitive, which is why so much of it has already gone overseas.

Higher public and private costs are the flip side of California’s experiment in social democracy. Ultimately, Newsom and the Legislature cannot repeal the laws of economics.

CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary.

[activecampaign form=31]

RELATED TOPICS:

DON'T MISS

Surprising Ways and Places You Can Use SNAP EBT Food Benefits

DON'T MISS

Californians Worry About Crime, Setting up a Ballot Measure Showdown

DON'T MISS

The Pickle Flavor Frenzy and Its Rise in Food Trends

DON'T MISS

Kate Hudson Had a Lifetime to Make a Record. The Result is ‘Glorious,’ Out in May

DON'T MISS

Long-Lost First Model of USS Enterprise from ‘Star Trek’ Boldly Goes Home

DON'T MISS

California Leaders Take Sides in Monumental Supreme Court Case on Homelessness

DON'T MISS

Man Sets Himself on Fire Outside Trump Hush Money Trial Court

DON'T MISS

McDonald’s Ice Cream Machines Are So Unreliable They’re a Meme. They Might Also Be a Climate Solution.

DON'T MISS

Real Estate Experts Talk Fresno’s Economic Future. Are Tough Times Ahead?

DON'T MISS

Unlocking the Secrets to Fresno State’s Superb Baseball Season

UP NEXT

McDonald’s Ice Cream Machines Are So Unreliable They’re a Meme. They Might Also Be a Climate Solution.

UP NEXT

Will State AG Rob Bonta Jump Into 2026 Race for CA Governor?

UP NEXT

Local Leaders Must Put Their Shoulders Into Making Fresno ‘Education City USA’

UP NEXT

Carbon Capture Isn’t Nearly as ‘Green’ as Fossil Fuel Promoters Make It Sound

UP NEXT

CA’s High Construction Costs Limit Housing. A Supreme Court Decision Might Help

UP NEXT

A Fresno Edition of Monopoly? That’s Capitalism at Work, Baby!

UP NEXT

Biden’s Embrace of Trump’s Tariffs Could Spell Trouble for His Reelection: Fareed Zakaria

UP NEXT

‘Digital Democracy’ Project Penetrates California’s Opaque Political Processes

UP NEXT

While California Politicians Skirmish Over Housing, the Shortage Keeps Growing

UP NEXT

As PG&E Bills Skyrocket, Will California Lawmakers Hold Anyone Accountable?

Kate Hudson Had a Lifetime to Make a Record. The Result is ‘Glorious,’ Out in May

2 days ago

Long-Lost First Model of USS Enterprise from ‘Star Trek’ Boldly Goes Home

2 days ago

California Leaders Take Sides in Monumental Supreme Court Case on Homelessness

2 days ago

Man Sets Himself on Fire Outside Trump Hush Money Trial Court

2 days ago

McDonald’s Ice Cream Machines Are So Unreliable They’re a Meme. They Might Also Be a Climate Solution.

2 days ago

Real Estate Experts Talk Fresno’s Economic Future. Are Tough Times Ahead?

2 days ago

Unlocking the Secrets to Fresno State’s Superb Baseball Season

2 days ago

‘This Is How to Improve Reading Proficiency. We Just Have To Execute It’: FUSD Board President

2 days ago

Does Dyer Support (or Endorse) Bredefeld for Supervisor?

2 days ago

Get a 3D First Look at Merced’s High-Speed Rail Station Design

2 days ago

Surprising Ways and Places You Can Use SNAP EBT Food Benefits

Did you know that SNAP EBT benefits used to be called food stamps and that recipients can use those benefits to get healthy food in places o...

18 hours ago

18 hours ago

Surprising Ways and Places You Can Use SNAP EBT Food Benefits

19 hours ago

Californians Worry About Crime, Setting up a Ballot Measure Showdown

2 days ago

The Pickle Flavor Frenzy and Its Rise in Food Trends

2 days ago

Kate Hudson Had a Lifetime to Make a Record. The Result is ‘Glorious,’ Out in May

2 days ago

Long-Lost First Model of USS Enterprise from ‘Star Trek’ Boldly Goes Home

2 days ago

California Leaders Take Sides in Monumental Supreme Court Case on Homelessness

2 days ago

Man Sets Himself on Fire Outside Trump Hush Money Trial Court

2 days ago

McDonald’s Ice Cream Machines Are So Unreliable They’re a Meme. They Might Also Be a Climate Solution.

MENU

CONNECT WITH US

Search

Send this to a friend