California’s human development divide

The American Human Development Project recently released A Portrait of California, the latest report in its Measure of America series.   Uniquely, the report ranks regions and sectors of the state using the American Human Development Index (HDI) a composite figure derived from health, education and standard of living markers.   Sarah Burd-Sharps, a report co-author explains, “The [HDI] provides a way to make sense of economic, health, and education challenges in the interconnected way that people actually experience them.”  The report gives San Francisco the highest HDI (6.97) and Riverside-San Bernardino the lowest (4.58) of California five most populous regions.  The report also ranks the state’s major racial and ethnic groups, native- and foreign-born residents, and 233 neighborhood clusters with reliable U.S Census data. 

Based on HDI scores, the report sorts residents into “Five Californias”.  Only  1 % make it into highly privileged  “Silicon Valley Shangri-La” with a 9.35 HDI score.  By contrast, 38 % of residents occupy “Struggling California”, a group at 4.17 on the HDI whose members are found in the Central Valley, Inland Empire and swaths of Northern California and whose hard work never leads to security or sustained well-being.  Faring worst of all is “The Forsaken Five Percent” at 2.59 on the HDI.  The Forsaken, who are mostly Latino and African-American  reside in impoverished Los Angeles neighborhoods and areas of the San Joaquin Valley and face extremely limited opportunities and choices.  Interestingly, one third of the Shangri-Las and one third of the Forsaken are foreign-born.

The report’s findings point up stark economic, racial and gender disparities including:

  • Just 100 of California’s nearly 2,500 high schools account for half of the state’s dropouts.
  • Men earn more than women in every racial and ethnic group.
  • A gap of $58,000 in annual earnings of the typical worker separates the state’s top wage earners in the Santa Clara–Cupertino, Saratoga, Los Gatos area (about $73,000) from the lowest earners in the LA–East Adams–Exposition Park area (about $15,000).
  • California’s Latina women earn the least:   $18,000, which is about what  the typical American worker earned in 1960 half a century ago.
  • There is a 15.3 year life expectancy range across neighborhoods with the high and low— Newport Beach/Laguna Hills area (88.1 years) and Watts (72.8 years)—in the same metropolitan area.

There are some report findings that  some readers may find counterintuitive, including the fact that California’s overall life expectancy at 80.1 years is one and a half years longer than the national figure and that foreign-born Californians live an average of four years longer than native-born residents.

“Given the current budgetary environment in California, there could be no better time for this nonpartisan, fact-based tool to break down the silos, look at who is thriving and who is merely surviving, and identify the most strategic levers for change,” says report co-author Kristen Lewis.  In a recent piece on the report, Sacramento Bee political columnist Dan Walters warns that failure to take appropriate action on the findings will relegate the Golden State to the “two-tier” haves and have-nots California that he predicted in his writings of 25 years ago.

The report’s recommendations include fixing the broken governance system, targeting high drop out high schools, reducing residential segregation, reducing the earnings gender gap and addressing the African-American health crisis.

We encourage California readers to examine the full report and see how its findings, maps and other demographic information might be used in advocacy.