Barack Obama learned the rough sport of politics in Chicago, but his domestic policies have been shaped by California's progressive creed. As the Golden State crumbles, its troubles point to those America may confront in a second Obama term.
From his first days in office, the president has held up California as a model state. In 2009, he praised its green-tinged energy policies as a blueprint for the nation. He staffed his administration with Californians like Energy Secretary Steve Chu—an open advocate of high energy prices who's lavished government funding on "green" dodos like solar-panel maker Solyndra, and luxury electric carmaker Fisker—and Commerce Secretary John Bryson, who thrived as CEO of a regulated utility which raised energy costs for millions of consumers, sometimes to finance "green" ideals.
Obama regularly asserts that green jobs will play a crucial role in the future of the American economy, but California, a trend-setter in the field, has yet to reap such benefits. Green jobs, broadly defined, make up only about 2 percent of jobs in the state—about the same proportion as in Texas. In Silicon Valley, the number of green jobs actually declined between 2003 and 2010. Meanwhile, California's unemployment rate of 10.9 percent is the nation's third highest, behind only Nevada and Rhode Island.
When Governor Jerry Brown predicted a half-million green jobs by the end of the decade, even The New York Times deemed it "a pipe dream."
Obama's push to nationalize many of California's economy-stifling green policies has been slowed down, first by the Republican resurgence in 2010 and then by his reelection considerations. But California's politicians, living in what's become essentially a one-party state, have doubled down on green orthodoxy. As the president at least tries to cover his flank by claiming to support an "all-in" energy policy, California has simply refused to exploit much of its massive oil and gas resources.
Does this matter? Well, Texas has created 200,000 oil and gas jobs over the past decade; California has barely added 20,000. The state's remaining energy producers have been slowing down as the regulatory environment becomes ever more hostile even as producers elsewhere, including in rustbelt states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, ramp up. The oil and gas jobs the Golden State political class shuns pay around $100,000 a year on average.
When Governor Jerry Brown predicted a half-million green jobs by the end of the decade, even The New York Times deemed it "a pipe dream.""
Instead, California has forged ahead with ever-more extreme renewable energy mandates that have resulted in energy costs roughly 50 percent above the national average and expected to rise substantially from there. This tends to drive out manufacturing and other largely blue-collar energy users.
Over the past decade the Golden State has grown its middle-skilled jobs (those that require two years or more of post-secondary education) by a mere 2 percent compared to a 5.3 percent increase nationwide, and almost 15 percent in Texas. Even in the science-technology-engineering and mathematics field, where California has long been a national leader, the state has lost its edge, growing just 1.7 percent over the past 10 years compared to 5.4 percent nationally and 14 percent in Texas.
A recent Public Policy of California study shows that since the recession, the gap between rich and poor has widened more in California than in the rest of the nation. Lower-income workers have seen their wages drop more precipitously than those of the affluent. And the middle class is proportionately smaller and has shrunk more than elsewhere. Adjusted for cost of living, it stands at 47.9 percent in California compared to nearly 55 percent for the rest of the country.
Meantime, many Californians have been departing for more affordable states, with a net loss of four million residents to other states over the past 20 years (while continuing, of course, to attract immigrants.) Of those who remain, nearly two-in-five Californians pay no income tax, and one in four receive Medicaid.
There are some people are prospering in California, including many of the affluent supporters who Obama courts on his frequent fundraising forays here. Tenure-protected academics from the University of California constitute his third-largest donor base, while Google ranks fifth and Stanford twelfth, according to Open Secrets.
Sent from my iPhone