A new report has found that strong job growth in Orange County projected over the next decade won’t be enough to keep up with the cost of housing and rising income inequality.
The More Jobs, Less Opportunity report is a joint study between Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development and the University of California-Irvine Labor Project. It was presented Monday night to a gathering of policy makers and activists at the Santa Ana Public Library.
The study makes three main findings.
- The boundaries of economic segregation prevalent in the county – with the more affluent generally living in South County and lower-income earners living in North County – will only become more sharply defined. The likelihood of low-income families living in a poor neighborhood, known as, "spatial economic segregation," is increasing.
- Housing costs are “extremely high” and will likely grow faster than wages. From 1990 to 2014, the median home price in the county shot up 57 percent, but the average wage only increased 18 percent. Unaffordable rentals mean very high overcrowding rates.
- A “disproportionally large number” of jobs created over the next decade will be in low-wage industries. Half the jobs added would qualify an individual for low-income housing, while 19 percent would be at an income level eligible for food stamps for an individual.
At the presentation, a panel was assembled that included Santa Ana activist and software consultant Dylan Thompson; Karina Paredes-Arzola, a community organizer with the faith-based group CLUE; Adrian Rocha, a grocery store worker at El Super and Fullerton resident; and former state Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana).
The conversation turned to encompass a wide range of issues related to income inequality, including the recent decision to kill Irvine's living wage ordinance for city contractors, the strength (or lack thereof) of today’s progressive activism, and the how the “American dream” seems to be fading away.
Rocha spoke about life as a low-income worker, and the challenges of trying to raise a seven year-old son and pay off his wife’s college debt. “It’s really hard to live your life stressed, knowing you have to live paycheck-to-paycheck,” he said.
Dunn, who is a Voice of OC board member, said that very few policymakers understand that every human society in history that allowed extreme levels of income inequality wound up collapsing. He said progressive politicians try to push for policies that address the issue, but end up defeated by the well-financed lobbying campaigns.
Dunn suggested people organize and deliver statistics about how income inequality is affecting the constituents of elected officials, and keep the data focused on how it affects their districts specifically. At that point, “it makes it hard to turn a blind eye,” he said.