Why the Middle Class Matters
Crowd at career fair (Photo Credit: Michael Starghill/Flickr)
Originally published in The Business Journals special supplement "CA Fwd: Fixing California - Then and Now"
California is the land of milk and honey, of dreamers and doers.
But that’s not good enough, nor is it sustainable, unless we strive to do better for all who comprise our state’s workforce.
Our state has the uncanny ability to continually reinvent itself through the seemingly boundless talent and ingenuity of its inhabitants. Yet for all of our recent success, Californians have also become complacent, assuming that our innovative capacity, entrepreneurial prowess and belief in social responsibility will automatically unleash broad economic prosperity and expanded opportunities for everyone to join the middle class. They haven’t.
This disparity has never been more evident than it is now, but it remains unresolved and requires a reboot in thought, action and policy. In 1971 about 70 percent of Americans were described as middle class. Today that number is only 50 percent. In the Sacramento region, the income gap between rich and poor grew by more than 30 percent over the past decade, while the Inland Empire saw the biggest jump – more than 40 percent.
Our challenge is to harness our powerful state economy and expand it to extend prosperity to more Californians. The California Economic Summit’s goal of lifting one million families out of poverty into the middle class isn’t simply ambitious – it’s a necessity for our collective future.
Public policy has a vital role to play. When I ran Governor Brown’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz), we concentrated on economic development and job creation. It’s not a job that government can do in a vacuum. It takes the private sector, civic leadership and, yes, the government to make a difference.
Not surprisingly, my work took me to CA Fwd, which was (and is) a valuable partner in the work toward strengthening the middle class. CA Fwd’s unique ability to convene and communicate with stakeholders across the various economic sectors in the California regions helps develop pragmatic solutions that can make a real difference.
The California dream has always been about the collective embrace of our entrepreneurial spirit to foster opportunities for all to create a better state for our children than the one we inherited. I hope you will join us in reinventing that dream once more.
Kish Rajan is co-founder of Epiphany and former director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz).