Jerry Brown and California’s “Attractive” Poverty


Jerry Brown is supposed to be a different kind of politician: well informed, smart, slick, and skilled.  While he has had some missteps, he's always bounced back.  His savvy smarts have allowed him to have a fantastically successful career while generally avoiding the egregious dishonesty that characterizes so many political practitioners.

So, I was shocked to read that he said that California's poverty is a result of the State's booming economy.  Here's part of the Sacramento Bee report:

Gov. Jerry Brown, whose pronouncements of California's economic recovery have been criticized by Republicans who point out the state's high poverty rate, said in a radio interview Wednesday that poverty and the large number of people looking for work are "really the flip side of California's incredible attractiveness and prosperity."

The Democratic governor's remarks aired the same day the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 23.8 percent of Californians live in poverty under an alternative calculation that includes the cost of living.

Asked on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" about two negative indicators — the state's nation-high poverty rate and the large number of Californians who are unemployed or marginally employed and looking for work — Brown said, "Well, that's true, because California is a magnet.

"People come here from all over in the world, close by from Mexico and Central America and farther out from Asia and the Middle East. So, California beckons, and people come. And then, of course, a lot of people who arrive are not that skilled, and they take lower paying jobs. And that reflects itself in the economic distribution."

This is so incredibly wrong that I'm worried that Brown has lost his head and ability to reason.   If he really believes what he said, he's living in the past and he's so ill informed as to be delusional.  If he doesn't believe what he said, I'm worried that his political skills have slipped.  To my knowledge, he's never said anything so clearly at odds with the truth in his career.

Here are the facts:

  • California's poverty is not where the jobs are, which is what we'd expect if what Brown said was true.  Most of California's jobs are being created in the Bay Area, a region of fabulous wealth. By contrast, California's poverty is mostly inland. San Bernardino, for example, has the second highest poverty rate for American cities over 200,000 population, and no, it's not because it's a magnet. Most of California's Great Central Valley is a jobs desert, but the region is characterized by persistent grinding poverty and unemployment.  No one in recent years is moving to Kings County to look for a job.
  • States with opportunity have low poverty rates.  North Dakota may have America's most booming economy.  According to the Census Bureau, North Dakota's Supplemental Poverty Measure is 9.2 percent.  That is, after adjustments for cost of living, 9.2 percent of North Dakotans live in poverty.  The rate in Texas – a state with a very diverse population, and higher percentages of Latinos and African-Americans – is 16.4 percent.  California leads the nation with 23.8 percent of Californians living in poverty.
  • According to the U.S. Census, domestic migration (migration between California and other states) has been negative for 20 consecutive years. That is, for 20 years more people have left California for other states than have come to California from other states. Wake up, Jerry, this is no longer your Dad’s state – or that of his successor, Ronald Reagan. This is a big change from when Brown was elected governor the first time.  At that time, California was a magnet.  It had a vibrant economy, one with opportunity.  California was a place where you could have a career, afford a home, raise a family.  It was where the American Dream was realized.
  • How about the magnetic attraction for immigrants from all over the world? According to the Census Bureau, international migration to California is way down.  The number of California international immigrants has been declining for a decade at least.  Indeed, in recent years there have been about half as many international immigrants to California than we saw in the 1990s.  Over the past decade, the number of foreign born increased more in Houston than the Bay Area and Los Angeles put together. Opportunity, not  “attractiveness”, drives people to move.
  • The result of negative domestic migration and falling international migration is the total migration to California has been negative in each of the past eight years.  More people have left California than have come to California for eight consecutive years. 
  • California's migration trends combined with falling birth rates has resulted in the lowest sustained population growth rates that California has seen.

The data are clear: Brown's assertions have no basis in fact.  California – with the exception only recently of the Bay Area – is not a magnet. California is not "incredibly attractive and prosperous."  People are not coming from all over the world. California may beckon, but more are leaving, and those here are having fewer children. California's seductive charms go only so far.

I don't know if I'd prefer that Brown was delusional or lying. On the one hand, policy made from a delusional analysis of the world is sure to be bad policy. Brown, for example, may convince himself that Twitter, Google, and Facebook are the future of the California economy, without recognizing how few people, particularly from the working class or historically disadvantaged minorities, they employ. On the other hand, Brown is very skilled in the political arts. If someone as skilled as he has to resort to such outright misdirection, we may be in worse shape than I think.

Bill Watkins is a professor at California Lutheran University. and runs the Center for Economic Research and Forecasting, which can be found at

Jerry Brown photo by Bigstock.

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We all know....

We all know, with the progress of science and technology, the machinery is taking the place of labour force. Moreover, the recession aggravates unemployment. Now people in California are facing poverty problem. Sadly to see,the California was the Golden Mountain, the American is the richest country, it also face the poverty problem. How about the others? And, both the rich countries and the poor countries, it is the poor class to bear this kind of issue and apply for online loans.

Moonbeam Rising

Jerry Brown is immune to negative political consequences and can say whatever he likes and get away with. We who have pointed out the above anomalies to his assertions in our battles with ABAG (the Association of Bay Area Governments) have been ignored or ridiculed for doing so. I have said it here before, and my statement disappeared from the comments list, California is not one polity. It is several, each with its own unique issues. California needs to be broken up into several new States, so that the individual polities in this geographic region can solve their own particular problems. I can immediately see an eight state solution, arising out of the current morass that has been created by the folks in Sacramento. One state would encompass the deteriorating Central Valley. They are much too poor to bear up under the weight of regulation Sacramento has imposed upon them. We, who live in the affluent communities North of the Golden Gate, have our own issues. The cities, SF, Oakland, San Jose, etc., have their issues. Southern California is a foreign country to me. I say, let them go their way and let us go ours. It is the only compassionate and sensible thing to do. To accomplish this, we need to form a California Independence Party, end the One Party Rule, and Break the State. Almost everyone I talk to agrees with me to some extent or another.

The connection

The connection between "economic boom" in high-income sectors, and high poverty, in the same economy, will possibly ALWAYS be found to be in inflated urban land and housing costs.

This is also "the" connection between poverty and bad health outcomes.