California’s population nearly tripled during the second half of the 20th century, thanks in part to an influx of immigrants, the rise of the technology industry and the idea of the “California dream” – the idea that the American dream of success through hard work was even more achievable in the Golden State.
But California’s population growth rate has slowed significantly in the 21st century, and now sits at 0.7 percent, the same as the national average it once far outpaced.
A survey released Tuesday by the Public Religion Research Institute paints a grim picture for those living in California, suggesting the majority of residents do not believe the “California dream” is alive today and many people are struggling to make ends meet. Nearly half of the state’s workers are dealing with poverty, and most residents say they would urge young people to leave the area and search for opportunities elsewhere.
According to the survey of more than 3,000 residents, only 47 percent of Californians believe that, in the U.S., working hard will lead to financial security. Fifty-five percent of residents say it’s more difficult to achieve the American dream in California than other states. White residents were most likely to say the American dream is harder to achieve in California, while the Hispanic population was the most likely to say it’s easier to achieve there.The Hispanic population, however, makes up 60 percent of those who are working and struggling with poverty, which the study defines as those living in poverty, as well as living in “tenuous” economic conditions, with adjusted incomes 250 percent or less than their personal poverty threshold. Regionally, San Joaquin Valley holds the highest percentage of workers facing poverty (nearly 70 percent), while the Bay Area – including San Francisco, Santa Clara, Sonoma and surrounding counties – sees the least poverty.
The poverty rates are reflected in the respondents sense of economic security in various regions. More than half of Bay Area residents said they would encourage young people in their community to stay in the area, compared to only 19 percent of those in San Joaquin Valley and 29 percent of those in Inland Empire. A third of California workers struggling with poverty are young, the survey found.
The Public Religion Research Institute, a nonpartisan organization that conducts research on issues involving religion, culture and public policy, also found that nearly half of Californians ages 18 to 29 said getting a college education is “a risky gamble that might not pay off.” Among the study’s other key findings: about one in 10 residents said they participated in the gig economy (performing miscellaneous tasks such as shopping or driving for a ride-sharing app) in the last year.