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Rich Getting Richer, Poor Not So Much

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Rich Getting Richer, Poor Not So Much

One reason it's so difficult for all sides to come together on major public policies in California may center on the extent to which Californians lead dramatically different economic lives.

Some do quite well, thank you, and have little need for government support.

Others are barely hanging on by the seats of their economic pants, desperate for state services that are shrinking by the day.

Increasingly, California seems divided into two sectors, the "haves" and the "have nots." And while that revelation may not be a stunner in itself, the extent of the differences between those at the bottom and those at the top has reached new levels.

Data published recently by the nonpartisan California Budget Project tracks wage growth in California.

For some, the state has been much more golden than for others.

Between 1973 and 2009, incomes for the bottom fifth of California actually decreased by more than 5 percent when controlled for inflation. In other words, over the past quarter century, the poor have lost purchasing power.

During the same period, incomes for the top fifth increased by nearly 57 percent. Clearly, good fortune has come much more easily for some than others.

It wasn't always this way. The CBP report finds that between 1947 and 1973, incomes for the bottom fifth of the state soared by 117 percent, whereas incomes for the top fifth grew by 75 percent.

The difference between the two periods can be summarized as follows: in the quarter century after World War II all income sectors of the state thrived.

But hope for all changed dramatically, beginning in the 1970s, leaving the California today a state of great wealth and great poverty.

Most states have much more balance of income distribution than California. According to the Census Bureau, California ranks 43rd in the nation among states with the widest gap between the rich and poor. 

Little wonder then why elected officials in Sacramento have such difficulty in determining public priorities.
With increasing differences between those at the top and those at the bottom, it's becoming increasingly difficult for policy makers to find common ground--all this as those at the very bottom fall farther and farther behind.

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