Most Californians Say Economic Inequality Is Getting Worse, in New Survey

Seven in 10 Californians say the gap between rich and poor is getting larger, according to a statewide survey released this week.

The survey, conducted last month by the nonpartisan think tank, Public Policy Institute of California, and published Nov. 9, polled 2,292 adult Californians about their opinions on the state’s economic outlook, financial security, job security, among other topics.

“Solid majorities of Californians say the gap between rich and poor in their region is increasing and that children growing up in California today will be worse off than their parents,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO.

Overall, Californians have mixed views of the state’s economic outlook for the next 12 months. About 47% said they think good times are ahead, while 52% say they foresee bad times. Taking a closer look at racial/ethnic groups, a majority of Latinos (57%) and Black Americans (54%) say good times are ahead, compared to about four in 10 Asian Americans (43%) and whites (39%).

Survey results also vary by region.

Half of residents in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area are optimistic, while majorities in the Central Valley, the Inland Empire, and Orange/San Diego are pessimistic.

About 64% of survey respondents say they think inequality will be larger by the year 2030.

The PPIC survey found that most Californians — about 78% — are satisfied with their current financial situation, and 21% said they are very satisfied. However, people of color, those with less formal education, and lower-income Californians are less likely to be very satisfied financially.

While one in six say they are worse off than a year ago, most Californians say they are doing about as well as they were a year ago, and about one in five say they are better off.

About 16% of Californians say they or someone in their household has received food from a food bank in the past year, and 27% received unemployment benefits.

Those making less than $20,000 per year are nearly three times more likely than those making $80,000 or more to say they are worse off.

The survey also asked numerous questions about job and financial security.

More than one in four Californians say they or someone in their household has had their work hours reduced or pay cut, or 28%, and about two in 10 know someone who lost their job in the past 12 months, while nearly half — about 49% — have worked from home.

Most Californians polled said the availability of well-paying jobs is a problem in their part of the state, and 22% consider it a big problem. Residents in the Inland Empire and Orange/San Diego are slightly more likely to say this is a big problem than those in other regions.

About one in five residents say the lack fo well-paying jobs in their region is a big problem and is making them seriously consider moving out of state.

In California’s central San Joaquin Valley, about 61% of residents polled view the availability of well-paying jobs as “somewhat of a problem,” while 21% view the availability of well-paying jobs as a “big problem.”

Most employees say they are at least somewhat satisfied with their jobs. About 37% of employed adults said they are very satisfied with their jobs, while 53% are somewhat satisfied. About 60% of adults say that their jobs provide opportunities for growth and advancement.

Still, not everyone feels this way.

“About one in five residents say the lack of well-paying jobs in their region is a big problem and is making them seriously consider moving out of state,” Baldassare said.

More than one in four Californians, or 27%, worry daily or almost every day about saving for retirement and the cost of housing. Two in 10 Californians worry about the amount of debt they have, and 19% worry about health care costs for them and their family.

The survey also asked questions about how Californians feel about worker organization. About eight in 10 adults completely (43%) or somewhat (38%) agree with the idea that it is important for workers to organize so that employers do not take advantage of them.

While workers across the state participated in strikes during October, recent reporting by CalMatters found that few of California’s working poor get the chance to vote on unions.

Survey results show that an overwhelming majority of Californians support expanding safety net programs. About seven in 10 adults, or 72% and 71% of likely voters, favor expanding eligibility and payments of the earned income tax credit for lower-income working families and individuals.

At the state and local levels, many groups have been advocating for the permanent extension of the child tax credit.

There were several questions related to workplace benefits and training support.

More than eight in 10 adults and likely voters favor increasing government funding for job training programs; solid majorities across partisan groups and regions favor this increase so that more workers have the skills they need for today’s jobs.

Nearly two in three Californians—or 65% adults and 60% likely voters—support a government policy to make college tuition-free at both public two-year and four-year colleges. Furthermore, about six in 10 Californians support a government policy that would eliminate college debt.

Support for these programs varies depending on racial/ethnic and ideological lines. Democrats and independents largely support these policies, while majorities of Republicans oppose both. Across racial/ethnic groups, whites are the least likely to support these policies, though nearly half are in favor. Support is lowest among college graduates, those 55 and older, and those with incomes of $80,000 or more.

About three in four support the government offering a Medicare-like health insurance plan, where Americans can purchase instead of private insurance. An overwhelming majority of Californians, or 76%, favor increasing government funding to make childcare programs available for more lower-income working parents.

Melissa Montalvo is a reporter with The Fresno Bee and a Report for America corps member. This article is part of The California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequity and economic survival in California.


  1. How does the Economic Outlook correlate to CA Public Education Student Math & Reading performance?
    And why would Taxpayers provide “college tuition-free at both public 2 yr & 4 yr colleges” for CA Public Education K-12 graduates in which less than 40% Do NOT Even meet High School Education Standards for an ever increasing High-Tech world and job market?

    California Department of Education, Sacramento, CA
    Detailed Test Results for: State of California 2018-2019
    (Don’t even ask about 2020 or 2021 – in which schooling barely existed)

    ———– Mathematics Achievement Level ————-
    Grade 8 Standard Met: 36.6%
    Grade 11 Standard Met: 32.2%

    ——— English Language Arts / Literacy Achievement Level ————–
    Grade 8 Standard Met: 49.4%
    Grade 11 Standard Met: 57.3%

  2. You’re survey-takers are are correct, mostly in California.

    Gini in California is 47th in the country.

    Gini in the Bay Area is third world levels…

    Tuition-free university will only make it worse, one, as non-college educated taxpayers will be paying the tuition of the rich, two, the mere act of subsidization has a long term effect of raising prices, for a number of reasons. Worse, college degrees have been shown to have a much lower return on investment for non-Asian minorities and if incentives matter, income incentives will drive many POCs to vocational jobs versus office professions.

    If you really want to see a shift toward more equality and a wider distribution of assets, make vocational studies free and give away the tools required to get licensed and get on the job site. We need plumbers, electricians, contractors, carpenters, painters, large equipment operators and mechanics, steel workers, etc.

    And once you have a solid tradesmen force, build houses designed for people to live in and own. Maybe be a bit more protective on trade too.

    Then the Gini income and wealth disparities will narrow.

    Until then, you will just making yourself feel good while making the problem worse.

  3. Let’s not look at the data, let’s just do a push-poll to see how we “feel.”

    The Progressives are flooding the market with trillions of excess spending (read pork). They are paying back their wealthy donor class. A perfect storm at the expense of the middle class.

  4. The backlash libertarian bot(s) never tire(s) of their (his) tired themes: public schools are a failure, funding for public schools and universities is money down the drain and “progressives” are aligned with the wealthy. That’s what HB, definitely him and the Parrot extricate from Ms. Montalvo’s good reporting on an important and rather large opinion poll (the survey was offered in five languages to about 2,300 California adults).

    The more important takeaways here are that there are super-majorities or near-super-majorities of Californians (i.e. overwhelming majorities of Democrats and Independents as well as some portion of Republicans) in support of a more robust safety net that includes, at the very least, publicly-funded childcare; publicly-funded pre-school to university education; publicly-funded healthcare along the lines of Medicare. More than 80% of California adults also agree that workers should organize to protect themselves from exploitation by employers. This suggests unionization drives could have decisive levels of public support if done skillfully.

    These results alone tell us that mobilizing latent opinions–as represented by polling results across racial and ethnic groups–into active organization could result in successful challenges to the crusty, conservative Democrats and the wealthy donors who dominate the political scene at the state and local levels.

  5. you keep pawing at us for attention… suss

    “public schools are a failure, funding for public schools and universities is money down the drain and “progressives” are aligned with the wealthy.”

    while completely and undeniably true, regardless of what any “poll” might conjure

    that is not what I said, what I said was give vocational education, tools, certifications, etc away for free and don’t have po’ people paying for daddy’s lil’ rich girl to get a $200k dancing degree with sales and other regressive taxes, like inflation

    and don’t be con’ed by conservative vs “other” dems, they vote in blocks because the largess is doled out within that block and remember all of the “Squad” are landlords

    listen, I am with you – end dumb wars and take a defensive posture and dampen our projection of force, make basic healthcare essentially free (we don’t need to make liposuctions, yoga, augmentations, transitions free, e.g.), there is nothing wrong with private sector unions as we have the market to offset supply risk, make cops reactive instead of proactive

    there are no solutions to our problems, only trade-offs – and in the four examples above the downsides are a less safe world outside the borders, some marginal retrenchment on medical innovation and increased costs, stagflation, more freedom but less safety – all acceptable for me… nothing is perfect and that is the problem with well meaning progressives – they want to selectively and conclusively eliminate all harm, which is not only impossible this willful ignorance creates unintended consequences – and I should know – I leverage them for a living…

  6. How about a Push-Poll in ‘Liccardo-Chavez’ -ville Shanty-Town (Columbus Park / Airport-ville) ?

    Should Econoblast hand out $50 to each individual vagrant in the park?

    I am sure the results would clearly be overwhelmingly in favor…

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