justin salters

Justin Salters

They say parenthood changes everything.

Our first daughter isn’t due until June, but my world has already started to turn upside down. It’s her future that causes me the most consternation.

I’m guilty of too often living in the future tense. Unconsciously drifting to thoughts about tomorrow. And tomorrow’s tomorrow. Years. Decades down the road.

And for the vast majority of my conscious life, my biggest concern has always been me. But the reality of expecting a child has set in. And with it, my future has a new horizon.

For 30 years, my gaze has focused on my lifetime. Now, I think of what lies ahead in her lifetime.

I’m more alarmed than ever about the future of opportunity in the Golden State.

I’m not alone. A recent poll found that more than 50 percent of Californians think our state’s younger residents are doing worse than the current generation.

Earlier this month CALmatters published an article on the California Dream. While we each have our own opinion on what exactly constitutes the California Dream, we can agree on several components: education, public safety, income, social mobility and home ownership.

The article focused on what has changed since California’s post-war Golden Era. A lot.

The good news is that there are some areas where life has improved.

The percentage of Californians with a bachelor’s degree has tripled since 1960, with California women making exceptionally strong gains (great news for Baby Salters). Rates of violent and property crimes have dropped to lows not seen since the late 1960s.

The state is safer and better educated.

Sadly, income, social mobility and housing have fared poorly.

It wasn’t always this way. Throughout the 1960s and ‘70s, median family incomes were on a steady increase. By 1980, the average household made 20 percent more than in 1967.

Since 1980, incomes have essentially stagnated. As reported by CALmatters, in 2014 the average California family was only making 8 percent more than it did three decades earlier.

While income and wage stagnation are observed across the country, Californians are doing worse than their fellow Americans. Over the past 30 years, median family incomes across the U.S. have grown faster than in California.

Simultaneously, there is an increasing trend that younger Californians will not out-earn their parents.

Since the 1940s, successive generations have, by and large, been able to do better economically than their parents. But for California millennials, there’s a less than 50 percent chance that we will out-earn our parents.

And that’s not because their parents are swimming in Scrooge McDuck-like vaults of gold coins. We’re talking about successive generations of upward mobility coming to an end. South Dakotans and Arkansans have a better chance of moving up the social ladder than Californians.

California’s high cost of housing is well documented and understood to be a major contributor to our shrinking prosperity. When you factor in the cost of living, California has the highest poverty level in America. It’s worse here, in the “rich” Golden State, than in “poor” states like Mississippi and Alabama.

The high cost of housing has made home ownership increasingly unattainable. In the 1960s, the median price of a California house was about three times the average income of California’s young families. Today, the median home price is more than seven times a younger family’s earnings.

No wonder many of us struggle to get ahead.

Politicians love to talk about fighting for the middle class and restoring the California Dream. The truth is that the poor policies they develop are to blame for many of our problems. Environmental regulations, taxes and labor laws drive out the types of middle-class jobs that fueled the Golden Age and make it more difficult for housing construction to keep pace with demand.

But instead of fixing the situation, politicians are in a rush to dog pile on California’s middle-income families, seemingly intent on crushing the California Dream.

Sacramento Democrats are never short on examples of proposals that would harm the very families they claim to want to help. Assemblywoman Laura Friedman’s AB 3232 is one of the latest examples.

Introduced two weeks ago, AB 3232 would require that buildings built on or after Jan. 1, 2030, be zero-emission buildings, and that emissions from all existing buildings be reduced to 50 percent below 1990 levels.

Because, obviously, what middle- and lower-income Californians need is another law that dramatically increases the price of housing in the name of climate zealotry.

At a time when the California Dream is visibly eroding, the last thing we need are new laws that make it more expensive to live here. This is not a way to create opportunity for our next generations.

So, what’s a soon-to-be parent to do to seek opportunity? Leave California?

Many are. Every year since 2001, California has lost more residents to other states than it has gained.

The alternative is to stay and fight. To roll up our sleeves and make our voices heard. To refuse to believe that California is a lost cause.

For now, that’s the road I’m taking.

Because as last week’s cold spell reminded me, there are few other places I want to be.

Contributing columnist Justin Salters writes weekly on politics, culture and civic engagement; the views expressed are his own. Reach him at on Twitter @justinsalters or at justin@justinsalters.com.

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