Drilling down into California's have and have-not worlds

Separating the classes so starkly doesn't really tell the story, according to an interesting new report that features a 1 to 10 index of well-being that goes well beyond the usual economic statistics. In "A Portrait of California" the Social Science Research Council considers many factors - education, income, health, among them - in concluding that overall the state is actually doing a little better than the nation, with an index of 5.46 (the U.S. index is 5.09). But within that overall figure are five Californias whose success is highly varied:

• Shangri-Las: In and around Silicon Valley and portions of Southern California. They have an index of 9.35 and make up 1 percent of the population'

• Enclave California: Centered in metro-coastal areas, this group is affluent, educated and credentialed. They make up 18 percent of the population and have an index of 7.82.

• Main Street: Solidly middle-class group of suburban and ex-urban residents across the state who have longer lives, more education, and higher earnings than the typical American, but who face rising insecurity. They make up 38 percent of the population and have an index of 5.91.

•Struggling California: Mostly blue- and pink-collar workers who must deal with low wages, limited benefits, and meager job opportunities. Three in 10 did not complete high school. They make up a sizable 38 percent of the population and have an index of 4.17.

• The Forsaken Five Percent: These are folks who have been behind - in education, income, job opportunities, health. Many of them are in central L.A. and the state's rural areas, and they have an index of 2.59.

From the report:

In the Los Angeles metro area, a resident of the Newport Beach-Laguna Hills area in Orange County can expect to live fifteen years longer, is fifteen times more likely to have a bachelor's degree, and earns $33,000 more than a resident of Watts in Los Angeles. This earnings gap is more than the total wages and salary of the typical worker annually in the U.S. today.

Many of the findings will not come as a big surprise, but in scrolling through the report what stands out is how segmented the classes continue to be. Folks in "Struggling California," for example, have little chance of moving up the economic ladder, certainly not in this economy. There's a fascinating sidebar on the tale of two libraries in Sacramento - one in an affluent part of town and one in a low-income neighborhood. Guess which one has more space and computers? These divisions usually get very little airing because they are nuanced; we want our information in simple, black-and-white terms, which is why coverage of the California economy is often so distorted and over-simplified.

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
The multi-talented Mark Lacter
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