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Racial Inequality in California: What Can the State Do with $ 31 Billion? | State and regional

California is a state of contrasts. On the one hand, it has a budget surplus of $ 31 billion from the earnings of the rich, allowing it to spend record amounts on schools and health care. On the other hand, a new study reveals that despite a progressive tax system, serious racial inequalities persist.

The study, Portrait of California by Measure of America, found that the average lifespan of Native Americans is 67 years, a decrease of more than 7 years since 2012. Black youth are more than twice as likely as young people. white people to be both out of school and out of school. work in the years following high school. And, in the city of San Jose, Latinos earn $ 0.46 for every dollar white workers earn.

“These inequalities did not come out of nowhere, they are the result of political choices,” said Laura Laderman, chief statistician of Measure of America, a project of the Social Science Research Council.

She referred, in part, to segregation and online publishing that prevented minority communities from getting bank loans and accessing quality education. “It means we can make different policy choices that lead to different results. “

Democrats’ budget visions in California call for increased spending on social programs, education and health care, but advocates say, based on the study’s findings, the state should specifically target marginalized populations.

Political experts are optimistic about Gov. Gavin Newsom’s pledge to add $ 300 million for public health to the budget he will submit to the Legislature in early January. This funding will allow counties to identify and address specific racial inequalities in their regions and potentially create a health equity office to provide additional funding through state grants. Some counties, including Orange and Alameda, already have health equity programs targeting racial inequalities.

The study’s authors broke with standard measures of economic success such as gross domestic product or the unemployment rate. Instead, they used the American Human Development Index, which assesses the level of education, life expectancy, and income of different populations and assigns a score of 1 to 10 which signifies access to a group has a “freely chosen life of value”.

While the typical Californian ranks higher than the average American on the Index, the disparities within the state are significant. The top 1% of Californians score a 9 or higher, while over 30% of the population scores below 5, lower than the US average.

The researchers further disaggregated life expectancy, education, and income by race. White and Asian Californians can expect to live to be 78 years old, while the life expectancy of Latinos and Native Americans is at least three years behind. The life expectancy of Native Americans and Blacks has declined since 2012, with the life expectancy of Blacks declining from 1.5 years to 74 years.

State Senate and Assembly Democrats propose strengthening existing safety net programs that indirectly target inequalities, such as CalWORKs, the state’s Workplace Welfare Program, and Medi-Cal , the state’s Medicaid program for the poor.

Democrats are aiming to increase spending on universities and community colleges, with the chairman of the Assembly’s budget committee proposing $ 10 billion to improve school facilities. Senate leaders want to fill the gap in academic learning in schools by increasing spending on education.

“California is in good fiscal health,” San Diego President of the Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins said in a statement. “It’s time to build on the progress we’ve made: better access to education and health care.

Next step: targeted spending?

But progressive political experts want to go further. They want targeted spending for specific groups because, as Measure of America points out, support isn’t getting where it needs to go. Whites and Asians, for example, were three times more likely to have a bachelor’s degree than Latinos, according to the index. Likewise, the enrollment rate of black women in college is almost 4 percentage points lower than that of white women.

Progress has already been made, the report points out, with public schools in disadvantaged communities receiving more state and federal funding. But the scales could be more weighted, said Chris Hoene, executive director of the California Budget & Policy Center. Some advocates are pushing for an idea called targeted universalism, in which government support would target specific groups such as Native Americans or Latinos, not just low-income people.

“The paths are pretty clear: we need to provide more cash assistance, health care and childcare,” Hoene said, “and this needs to be better targeted because current systems are not reaching communities of color. “

White and Asian workers earn a median income above $ 51,000 a year, while black, Native American and Latino workers earn less than $ 37,000. In every rural and urban area in California, white workers earn above the median income and Latino workers earn below the median, according to the report.

Democrats recognize that there is still work to be done. “California’s incremental revenues fund state at record highs, but inequity persists,” said State Senator Nancy Skinner of Berkeley, who supports increased investment in affordable housing and infrastructure .

In recent years, California has permitted additional cash assistance for the poor through programs such as the Golden State Stimulus (the statewide cash assistance program to support low-income households for pandemic) and a guaranteed income. Advocates want to see more because there are no strings attached to this financial assistance – and it is reaching the groups most in need of support.

While Laderman said she was concerned that “all of these gaps that we have seen have widened” during the pandemic, she is optimistic that “there are certain opportunities at these times of the pandemic to invest in interventions that are necessary “.

This article was first published by CalMatters, and is part of California Divide, a newsroom collaboration examining income inequality and economic survival in California.