justin salters

Justin Salters

Earlier this month, my daughter turned six months old.

Going into parenthood, I was ready for diapers, sleepless nights and spit-up. Fortunately, we have figured most of those out.

What I wasn’t prepared for is how much attention and energy I would spend thinking about my daughter’s future.

It shouldn’t have surprised me.

One of my vices is that I tend to live in the future tense. Combined with my consumption of the latest research on social capital and opportunity in the 21st century, the result is a peculiar sort of neuroticism.

Conversations after we’ve put our little one to bed often turn to an examination of the status of local education. How do local schools perform relative to state and national standards? What percentage of students can read and perform math at or above grade level? Are our schools rigorous enough? Will their curriculum prepare her for future success in higher education and a profession?

I often wonder aloud if Bakersfield is the best place to raise a child in the 21st century.

I might sound crazy but trust me – I’m not.

Opportunity in America’s post-industrial economy is concentrated in a handful of the nation’s urban clusters. As a result, the socio-cultural gulf between well-educated urban elites and the middle- and working-classes grows wider every day.

Political scientist Robert Putnam’s “Scissor Graphs,” illustrate this divergence between “most people” in America, i.e., the bottom two-thirds, and “rich people,” i.e., the top one-third (search “Robert Putnam explains ‘Scissor Graphs’” on YouTube to see Putnam explain them).

The Scissor Graphs show that through the 1960s and 1970s, the life challenges faced by Americans were relatively similar across class and education status. Since then, however, there has been a significant divergence. Rich, college educated people have fewer challenges to navigate, while most people face more, big challenges.

It doesn’t matter if you’re considering out-of-wedlock births, fatherlessness, obesity rates, financial stability, or a host of other measures, the story remains the same: if you find yourself in the top one-third, things are going relatively well. If not, it’s statistically more likely that you are on a road headed for difficulty, if not disaster.

As a result, the best way to afford your children opportunity is to be college educated and move in a social circle that includes other college educated people. It’s the network effect of having high social capital.

This isn’t just a challenge for neurotic and aspirational parents. It’s a problem for all of us.

Especially in Bakersfield.

Fewer than 22 percent of Bakersfield residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher. And, while I am not one to believe that a college degree is a prerequisite for a meaningful and fulfilling life, we cannot deny the correlation between higher education and success in the 21st century.

We cannot deny that Bakersfield is afflicted by low social capital.

Regions with low educational attainment attract industries that demand low-skilled labor and pay low wages. Job opportunities are rare for workers with college degrees and advanced training in those communities, so they must look elsewhere and leave for a region with an abundance of job opportunities that reward their education.

Consider Amazon.

Amazon selected New York City and the suburbs of Washington, D.C. to host two new corporate headquarters. Each will become home to approximately 25,000 employees. The Wall Street Journal reported that the driving force behind Amazon’s decision making was the company’s ability “to recruit more of the best tech talent.” The average income for each of the 50,000 workers that will be hired is projected to be more than $100,000 per year.

At the same time, Amazon announced plans to build a massive, four-story fulfillment center just north of Bakersfield in Oildale. It’s expected to create 1,000 new jobs. The average annual wage of those jobs? $31,000.

And so the cycle continues. Areas with educated talent attract businesses looking for that talent. More opportunities attract more talent, which attract more talent-seeking businesses, which attracts more talent.

When I think of my daughter’s future, I see her leading product teams at Amazon, not stuffing packages for two-day Prime delivery.

This is why I question whether Bakersfield is the best place to raise a family.

Because while my wife and I enjoy the benefits of hometown roots, if our city cannot address its social capital deficiencies, we are a generation away from becoming a city of the stuck.

If we want to attract opportunity for our children; if we want to prevent our city from becoming the next Appalachia, we must address our low social capital.

This is the policy and civic challenge of our time.

Contributing columnist Justin Salters writes on politics and current events; the views expressed are his own. His column appears on the first and third Tuesdays of the month. Reach him on Twitter @justinsalters or email him your thoughts: justin@justinsalters.com.

(14) comments


I think it's entirely possible to raise successful children in Bakersfield. Granted, they may leave for better opportunities (more competitive colleges or better job prospects), but I felt this was a great place to raise kids. When we came here from S. California, my kids were 3 and 6, and I stopped working (something not really practical in SoCal.) We chose not to live in a gated community, so our kids went to PBVUSD schools and then to Ridgeview H.S. While RHS did not offer as many AP/Honors classes as schools in higher income areas, my kids were still able to compete in good colleges (one has a BS in electrical engineering and MS in computer sci from UCLA, one has BS and MS in civil engineering from UC Berkeley.) They were at some disadvantage because they didn't have as many college units (from AP classes) as many of their classmates when they started college, but a combination of luck and a lot of hard work got them to degrees (both with honors) in four years. RHS must have prepared them enough (something I did worry about.)


So many of the points in Mr Salters' letter can be laid directly at the feet of the Leftists who control California State politics. A flood of third-world, uneducated & needy population? Willful destruction of all viable economic activity that is not dominated by them? While they may not be responsible for air quality problems, anyone who does not understand that up to 40& of our air pollution comes from a big leftist area to our north has not been paying attention. Relocating to ground zero of the leftist cesspools hardly seems the answer.


Yes, of course its the "leftists" Why have I been so unable to locate the problem
until now? Thanks so much mrdwm i for showing me the truth.The "leftists"
are the real problem in Bakersfield.


dang... I'm gettin so old.....had to google....low Social capital ........"Social capital is also distinguished from the economic theory social capitalism. Social capitalism as a theory challenges the idea that socialism and capitalism are mutually exclusive. Social capitalism posits that a strong social support network for the poor enhances capital output. By decreasing poverty, capital market participation is enlarged....."


Considerations of where we want our children to be raised are based on our own values. We have now experienced life in big towns, and very small towns, and the experiences of both extremes have led my kids toward appreciating the nice medium we have in Bakersfield. The key is to make sure our own kids are properly educated, in spite of the education culture of the city.


the truth hurts~


Justin hits the nail on the head. We have a lot of local talent in our high schools that simply leaves Bakersfield and never comes back. The opportunity is in the Bay or LA.

We don't have a lot of jobs for people with higher-education; those positions are filled already with aging talent that's not ready to retire. And when someone young does decide to stay, the city has a way of pushing them away to the bigger markets. We have to address this problem or we'll simply keep eroding.


I grew up around Kern County as did my wife. I was 18 and she was 16 when we married, we are still together after 48 years. We both graduated high school and attended a few years of community college at night. I believe so many people don't work hard at life. Yes I began working those vineyards at age 9, my Grandparents settled in Arvin in 1919 and bought raw acreage which they developed into fertile farmland. They were hard workers, as they instilled in me. I worked a lot of jobs from that early age. Early in our marriage we were blessed with 2 sons and after 10 years I accepted a job as a parts runner with a electrical contractor. When a position for a electrical helper opened up I jumped at the opportunity. 4 years later I was a journeyman electrician. At 10 years I accepted a automation position with one of Kerns oil companies. I worked hard to self educate myself in control and data programming, read manuals and studied engineering techniques. We retired 6 years ago, I left behind a yearly salary of $127K, not too shabby for a boy from Arvin who worked on a farm. Work and try hard and you may be surprised just how well you do and what you accomplish in life. And yes we vacated California upon retirement.


Please do us all a favor and move....

Richard Saunders

Have your daughter attend a high school with a speech and debate (aka forensics) program. There is no better activity for a high school student in terms of college and career preparation. If our local middle and high schools invested more in their speech and debate programs, graduation rates and college degrees would improve significantly. Not all local who attain college degrees leave, and among those that do many eventually return.


This is exactly why I ran for State Assembly. It doesn't help that we don't have representation willing to bring the resources needed to close this gap.

My platform was predicated on building the infrastructure needed to be competitive in the 21st century. Something that can't happen if we don't have representation that cares about those issues. Right now, we don't. We have representation (especially in AD 34) that cares about sinking us deep into oil and ag at the expense of considering we desperately need other industries.


Justin, you are definitely not too far off of the mark. The air, skyrocketing crime rate, pitiful air quality, taxes, taxes and more taxes. The BCSD has some of the lowest test scores in the state. Bakersfield is unfortunately a town that has litter on every major roadway and throughout the town, graffiti everywhere you turn and who likes the town from July, August and first half of September or even later from the oppressive heat? If the new Governor runs the state the way he did San Francisco - the taxes, fees and any other adjective for the word "tax", it is coming to a town near you. Sometimes people do not like to hear the truth and on the flip side of that coin, there is nothing wrong for planning the future. Take it from me, someone that left California over 2 years ago and haven't looked back. It was part of my plan that started 5 years ago.

Peace and Freedom

This is not to mention brain drain. When we send our kids off to college they do not return back to Kern County.


I’m sure Justin is a nice guy. Just miss Lois a lot, and can’t really ever read more than a title and a sentence.

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