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Jordan Candler / Jan. 17, 2018

Extreme California Poverty Is Tied to Unbounded Welfare

If mitigating poverty was simply about doling out financial assistance, California should be golden.

California leftists constantly trumpet their supposedly progressive utopia, but the fact of the matter is that the state is in exceptionally critical need of reform. One of its big problem areas has to do with a systemically high poverty rate that drags California’s ranking to dead last. Believe it or not, close to one-quarter of all state residents meet the definition of poor.

This is truly baffling, particularly when you consider, as Pacific Research Institute’s Kerry Jackson writes, that “the state’s per-capita GDP increased roughly twice as much as the U.S. average over the five years ending in 2016 (12.5 percent, compared with 6.27 percent).” Yet in the 23-year period leading up to 2015, state and local municipalities oversaw the allocation of almost $1 trillion in welfare.

If mitigating poverty was simply about doling out financial assistance for the needy, California should top the list. But it’s doesn’t. In fact, it sits on the very bottom of the list. This cause and effect stems from the fact that any kind of welfare program that lacks accountability inevitably results in dependence on the state. As Jackson explains:

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, some states … initiated welfare reform, as did the federal government under President Bill Clinton and the Republican Congress. The common thread of the reformed welfare programs was strong work requirements placed on aid recipients. These overhauls were widely recognized as a big success, as welfare rolls plummeted and millions of former aid recipients entered the workforce. The state and local bureaucracies that implement California’s antipoverty programs, however, have resisted pro-work reforms. In fact, California recipients of state aid receive a disproportionately large share of it in no-strings-attached cash disbursements.

This is not how other states operate. Especially in Republican-led states, welfare is affixed with conditions, which necessitate pursuing a job. California’s plight resulted from leaders refusing to implement constraints and stipulations. There are some 883,000 public employees in California. And as Jackson explains, “A welfare bureaucracy has an incentive to expand its ‘customer’ base — to ensure that the welfare rolls remain full and, ideally, growing. … California has an enormous bureaucracy — a unionized, public-sector workforce that exercises tremendous power through voting and lobbying. Many work in social services.”

And this is to say nothing of the state’s housing, environmental and minimum wage boondoggles that unhelpfully ballooned welfare rolls. But at least Californians will have a bullet train! (Well, maybe, if the state can ever drum up the money.) When taking into account the madness of it all, it’s no wonder the state’s more conservative-minded — or “outcasts” — are working to mobilize support for a “New California.” As for the region’s metropolises, their model is unsustainable. A reckoning is coming eventually.

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