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Why we're investing in the economic security of Californians

Woman interacting with her young kids

Before the pandemic, we asked Californians what would make them feel healthy and safe in the future. What we heard was that the struggle of daily life was unrelenting. The focus was on survival – how to make it to tomorrow while managing a series of impossible trade-offs - which bills to pay or basic needs to sacrifice. Would it be food, rent, child care, or health care? 

One of the stories we heard was Salma’s. She was rebuilding her life after leaving an abusive relationship and working full-time hours between two different jobs, but still not able to afford child care for her son. She was working on enrolling him in a Head Start program and thankful her parents were able to help watch him temporarily.

Recent survey data from Public Policy Institute of California shows that many Californians in households making less than $40,000 annually are struggling. Forty-two percent of low-income Californians cut back on food to save money and 36% were unable to pay a monthly bill. Working poverty is highest among the service sector and in work-enabling sectors like care work but also in the Latinx, African American, Pacific Islander and Native American communities, woman-headed households, and adults with lower levels of education. 

We know that income and wealth, particularly when viewed through the lens of racial and gender equity, are among the most powerful long-term predictors of health and well-being.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only added urgency and new meaning to survival. Larger proportions of people of color are getting infected with COVID-19 and people of color are dying at drastically higher rates. Low-wage workers, who are disproportionately women, people of color and immigrants, are especially hit hard,  either by layoffs, or the necessity to continue working in high-risk environments without essential safety protections or benefits like paid sick leave or health insurance.

We know that income and wealth, particularly when viewed through the lens of racial and gender equity, are among the most powerful long-term predictors of health and well-being. The stress of poverty in childhood leads to poor health in adulthood, increasing the potential for income and wealth inequities to be passed to a next generation. Data also shows that women living in households with lower incomes experience the highest rates of domestic violence.

At the Foundation, our goal is to create lasting and equitable solutions to make California the healthiest state and to end domestic violence. To invest in health and well-being means tackling systems and policies that will bring Californians economic security and real opportunities for economic mobility. 

To make impact in this area, we are committed to investing in three important efforts: 

  •  Increasing income and benefit supports for low-income Californians. Many low-income Californians are juggling working, caring for their families, and pursuing higher education or new skills and credentials. We need supports in place that help them do it all. Policies like paid family leave and paid sick leave allow people to care for their health and their families’ health. Fairer tax policies such as earned income tax credits and child tax credits can provide a small income boost that can help cover basic needs, unforeseen expenses or save for the future. 

  •  Increasing workers’ wages, benefits, and job quality in the changing world of work while keeping care affordable for families. Our focus is on care workers, who are essential now and in the future for the healthy development of children, and the health and quality of life for people with disabilities and seniors. We must lift the wage floor for care work, support care workers’ health and safety on the job, build career pathways and explore innovations in benefit structures and worker ownership. 

  •  Developing innovations that provide greater economic security for survivors of domestic violence. Survivors need options of economic supports that can help meet their unique needs. One of the most important is unrestricted cash assistance to help them save and be less vulnerable if they choose to leave and rebuild their lives. Survivors also need banks and credit agencies to help them prevent and repair the damage of financial abuse, a form of domestic violence. They need safe, affordable, permanent housing. These solutions must be recognized as critical prevention strategies and supported and sustained through policy change.

Vanessa Guillen Mural

As COVID enters its second year and the rollout of the vaccine begins across California, we can start to envision a post pandemic future for our state. The question is whether we can hold on to the painful lessons we learned and take bold action in our economic recovery to address the systemic inequities in income and wealth, by race and gender, that resulted in so much suffering.

I am still hopeful that California can be a place where a single parent can work one stable job and earn enough to provide for the family, where an employee can take a day off to tend to their health or the health of a family member without fear of losing their job, where workers that take care of us are equally taken care of and valued, and where everyone has the financial freedom to leave an abusive relationship.

With that kind of economic security, when we ask Californians what will make them healthy and safe in the future, it will be about more than survival. It will be about the dreams they hold – of home ownership, of a child succeeding in school, of aging in place. They will be able to imagine it, to plan for it, and make it a reality. And we will all be better for it.