Once again, California has the highest poverty rate in America. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent report, the Golden State’s Supplemental Poverty Measure averaged 19 percent between 2015 and 2017.
Nationwide, poverty dropped in 2017 from 14.7 percent to 14.1 percent, but California’s rate was proportionately 35 percent higher than the national average.
In spite of (or perhaps to divert attention from) its high poverty rate, California’s left-wing political class continues its unrelenting sermonizing to the rest of us.
Big drivers of California’s poverty are: costly rents (second-highest in the nation after Hawaii); expensive electricity (highest in the lower 48 states outside of New England); heavily taxed and high-priced gasoline (second-highest after Hawaii); and high state taxes, combined with heavy housing and environmental regulations.
Some California politicians justify high taxes by pointing to the state’s generous welfare benefits, including a vigorous expansion of Medicaid.
However, the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, in use since 2009, considers a wider array of government assistance than does the old Official Poverty Measure, which doesn’t even look at cost-of-living differences between the states.
For a path out of poverty, a job beats welfare every time. But in high-cost California, having a job and receiving government assistance isn’t enough to lift millions of residents out of poverty.
California wasn’t always a high-cost state. But over time its dominant Malthusian, anti-people philosophy made housing hard to build, while government officials refused to invest adequately in new roads or water infrastructure.
Meanwhile, California’s wealthy elites, who largely live close to the temperate Pacific coast, are pushing energy policies that threaten even higher costs for electricity and commuting.
The California Legislature passed a bill signed into law by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown that lays the groundwork for the state getting 100 percent of its power from renewable energy by 2045.
In late August, news out of San Diego highlighted a 28.5 percent jump in electricity rates – with one homeowner complaining about a $900 electric bill to cool his 1,379-square-foot house only a mile from the ocean.
Misery loves company and California wants to share its misery nationwide.
Meanwhile, Tom Steyer, the billionaire California environmentalist who made his money the old-fashioned way – on coal, oil and natural gas – now reportedly harbors ambitions of replacing President Trump in the White House as he spends millions of dollars to gather meaningless signatures on impeachment petitions.
If California is America’s Yin, Texas is its Yang.
Where California has high taxes, including the nation’s highest marginal income tax rate, Texas has low taxes, with no income tax at all.
Where California has heavily-regulated electricity markets with draconian mandates for solar and wind energy, Texas has free markets with electricity selling at a little more than half of California’s prices (while producing five times as much wind power to boot).
And where California’s endless environmental delays halt the building of homes, roads, and new reservoirs, Texas welcomes construction.
The divergent policies in America’s two most populous states have consequences.
In 2017, the U.S. Census Bureau calculated that, of America’s four major demographic groups – non-Hispanic whites, blacks, Asian-Americans and Hispanics – the lowest poverty is among the white and Asian-American categories.
The Census Bureau estimated that 52.4 percent of California’s population last year was non-Hispanic white or Asian-American. In Texas, those two groups comprised 47 percent of the state’s residents. Yet California’s three-year poverty rate of 19 percent was almost a third higher than Texas’ 14.7 percent.
The Lone Star State has its own challenges. Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican running for a second term this year, has frequently warned of the danger of Texas “being California-ized” through city level “bag bans, fracking bans, (and) tree cutting bans (that form) a patchwork quilt of bans and rules and regulations that is eroding the Texas model.”
Further, property taxes – the domain of ostensibly non-partisan local government – are soaring in Texas, even as the heavily Republican state Legislature has modestly cut statewide taxes.
More ominously, the state’s continued rapid growth is prompting increased pressure from both liberal and conservative homeowners on their city and county elected officials to put the brakes on new housing, slowing construction and contributing to a quickening rise in rents.
For Texas, and America, the lesson should be obvious: for human thriving, freedom beats government control – don’t be like California.
This commentary was originally featured in Fox News on September 21, 2018.