Most Californians See Bleak Times Ahead for Next Generation

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Struggling through pandemic lockdowns and incessant school closures, Californians expect a bleak financial future for the next generation to grow up in the nation’s richest state.

Concluding a year marred by record unemployment that unduly targeted low-income workers, just 35% of respondents in a new survey released Wednesday said California children will be better off financially than their parents. The pessimistic poll also found a strong majority of Californians believe the gap between the rich and poor is growing and will continue over the next decade.   

In the latest Public Policy Institute of California statewide survey, 80% of adult respondents pinned their murky financial predictions on a lack of well-paying jobs.

Job scarcity has some residents plotting moves as the pandemic wages on, says PPIC president Mark Baldassare.

“Californians have a gloomy economic outlook, and one in four are seriously considering leaving California due to a lack of well-paying jobs in their region,” Baldassare said.

The survey, titled “Californians & Their Economic Well-Being,” reveals Californians across most income groups have yet to recover financial losses caused by the coronavirus.  

California unemployment peaked at a record 16.4% last spring and the state has lost over 2.6 million nonfarm jobs since March. The number of unemployed Californians — 1.7 million — is up 136% compared to November 2019, with the largest job losses coming from the hospitality, tourism, restaurant and personal services industries.

Though the latest jobs report pegged state unemployment below 10% for the first time since the onset of the pandemic, California’s pandemic recovery has been top heavy. Californians making under $20 per hour have seen most of the job losses, in contrast to people making over $60 per hour who remain employed at pre-pandemic levels.  

The strain on California’s middle and lower class — and more specifically minority households — is reflected throughout the PPIC survey.

Over 40% of respondents from households with incomes below $40,000 said someone had their hours or pay reduced, while an alarming 42% of households with incomes under $80,000 said they have been forced to cut back on food spending. In addition, Latinos reported the most pay decreases while Blacks and Latinos lost jobs at higher rates than whites and Asian Americans. 

As for the future, over 25% responded they were worried about saving for retirement and housing costs on an almost daily-basis. Among lower-income Californians, those in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Inland Empire worry most about covering their bills and respondents in Los Angeles are most concerned about being laid off. 

“Lower-income Californians are less likely to say their household finances are comfortable and that it would be not too difficult to pay an emergency expense,” Baldassare noted.

When asked to choose between a variety of economic proposals, an overwhelming 83% supported publicly funded job training. A majority of respondents also want increased subsidized child care for low-income workers (78%), free college tuition (66%) and the elimination of college debt (65%). Nearly 70%, including 63% of Black respondents, said race and ethnic discrimination contributes to the country’s income inequality. 

The PPIC survey carries a 3.1% margin of error and is based on phone interviews with over 2,300 California adults. As for demographics, the survey included responses from 1,000 lower-income workers and was given between November 4-23 in English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean.

The survey’s release coincides with the state’s worst stretch of the pandemic yet, as its death toll earlier this week crossed the 20,000 mark.

Statewide hospitalizations and ICU admissions are also up 70% over the last two weeks, prompting Governor Gavin Newsom to issue strict new lockdowns in Southern California and the Central Valley. The orders, which mirror shelter-in-place mandates issued in March, are expected to extend to the rest of the state later this month.

On the pandemic, 72% said they are worried about getting sick and 65% are sweating the potential financial consequences. Nearly 80% say their life has been impacted at least some by the coronavirus and 51% are consistently worried that pandemic-related stress is negatively affecting their mental health.

Regardless of the cringeworthy overall results, the survey found a majority approve of how Newsom (58%) and the Legislature (53%) are handling the economy. Both Newsom and lawmakers have said pandemic relief for small businesses and low-wage workers will be a focus of the next budget and legislative session. 

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