In summary

California employers, workers and residents must commit to creating a shared prosperity.

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By Michael Tubbs

Michael Tubbs, former mayor of Stockton, is the governor’s adviser for economic mobility and opportunity,

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Don Howard, Special to CalMatters

Don Howard is president and CEO of The James Irvine Foundation,

Could California’s recovery leave millions behind? It won’t if we take bold, collective action informed by the working Californians who for too long have been shut out of our economy.

As the pandemic subsides and resources flow to rebuilding, we cannot return to a normal that failed millions of Californians. To end poverty and create shared prosperity, we need a new normal built on inclusion, equity and honoring all work and workers.

We need Californians to tell their employers, labor unions and elected leaders to come to the table with a genuine commitment to improving conditions and opportunities for workers paid the lowest wages and facing the greatest risk.

We have the opportunity, with federal and state leaders providing and proposing once-in-a-generation investments for an equitable transition to a climate-resilient economy. The new federal administration has made significant investments to increase economic mobility and revitalize our communities. The American Rescue Plan Act, signed into law in March, brings billions in federal stimulus to California, including $27 billion for the state budget, $550 million in state capital projects, and $16 billion in direct relief to California counties and cities.

Meanwhile, Gov. Gavin Newsom is increasing the state’s commitment to equitable economic growth, bolstered by a surplus in the state coffers. The latest proposed budget includes starting a $500 savings account for every first grader, $35 million for local governments to match for universal basic income pilots, and $750 million for a Community Economic Resilience Fund. The latter would provide money to California regions for collaboration — among sectors and community groups — to create economies that are good for workers, communities and the climate.

A recent survey of Californians by the Public Policy Institute of California found that nearly 1 in 3 low-income residents say they’re financially worse off today than a year ago. And 6 in 10 of all Californians say they feel the gap between rich and poor in their region is growing.

But there is opportunity from the crisis. The money is coming. Without new voices and approaches, however, we will return to the inequitable growth and conditions in California that created shameful rates of poverty and income inequality that existed before the pandemic.

First, we need to join forces, across sectors, with a commitment to shared prosperity. This includes employers, labor unions, philanthropy and nonprofits collaborating in new ways for a new chapter in California’s economy.

Employers are particularly important. They dictate the pay, power and opportunities for their workers, and as civic leaders in their communities, they exert great influence on politics. There is, naturally, intense pressure on employers to make their bottom lines and deliver for shareholders, but more and more companies realize that they must be part of the solution to economic disparities, not the driver of them.

Second, and crucially, we must create opportunities for the voices of California’s lowest-paid workers to inform the jobs and economies of the future. Farmworkers, cooks, nannies and custodians may not be economists, but they are the economy. The fact that California now has millions of job openings for which no one is applying says something about the pay and quality of occupations that are the engine of our economic, professional and social lives.

Fortunately, there are some promising examples underway, with economic development planning in Salinas, Fresno, Bakersfield and the Inland Empire that authentically includes residents. The Fresno Drive initiative is a particularly noteworthy model, engaging a diverse array of Fresno residents for more than  10 years to develop their future economy. Now is a critical moment to invest in more collaboration and listening.

The James Irvine Foundation is supporting one encouraging model in Southern California, where a cross-sector group is committed to ensuring there are skilled trade workers for large infrastructure projects expected in coming years. Employers and labor are at the table, as are foundations and nonprofits that can elevate community needs and perspectives.

We should expand and replicate innovative efforts with these new funds, not create competing processes. And we need leaders from all sectors to commit to inclusive, equitable growth. Otherwise, we’ll waste this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.


Editor’s note: The James Irvine Foundation is a CalMatters funder.

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