California should push for a federal jobs guarantee, raise wages, double the amount of workers who have access to benefits, and help workers form unions.

Those were among the recommendations in a report released Tuesday by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Future of Work Commission, which outlines steps the Golden State should take in order to achieve a “new social compact for work and workers” by 2030. But even as the report sets “moonshot goals,” it acknowledges the state’s vast economic divide, which has yawned wider amid the pandemic.

California has the highest poverty rate in the country when the cost of living is taken into account, clocking in at a staggering 17.2%, the report found. And while home prices have shot up 68% since 2012, wages have only grown 14%. (It doesn’t help that the state’s housing production has decreased for two straight years.)

The report also found that fewer than half of California workers have quality jobs — defined as those with a living wage, stable and predictable pay and access to benefits, among other factors — and 31% of the state’s workforce makes less than $15 per hour. (California’s minimum wage has increased for four years in a row and is set to hit $15 per hour next year for most employers.)

  • The report: “Declining worker power and organization has been a significant contributor to inequality, declining job quality and violation of workers’ rights. … The availability of ‘good jobs’ is further threatened by … misclassification of workers as independent contractors.”

The apparent dig at Prop. 22 comes a few months after California voters approved the measure to exempt Uber and Lyft from state labor law — and to prevent their drivers from unionizing. But although the commission’s findings echo Newsom’s sentiments in a 2019 Sacramento Bee editorial — in which he slammed  “companies eager to save on labor costs” and emphasized the importance of “creating new ways for workers to organize” — the governor refused to disclose how he voted on Prop. 22. It was just one of three November ballot measures on which he remained silent.


The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 3,481,611 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 52,497 deaths (+0.6% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

Also: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. And we’re tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

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1. Newsom’s budget lacks checks and balances

Illustration by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters; iStock

If lawmakers approve Newsom’s proposed budget, there would be “no reasonable checks and balances on the governor’s COVID-19 spending authority,” according to a striking Tuesday report from the nonpartisan analyst that advises the state Legislature. But the report doesn’t just take issue with Newsom’s proposal — it also critiques the underlying laws that make it possible, apparently hinting that the Legislature should consider changing them.

  • The Legislative Analyst: “Our concerns … are reflective of the larger problems associated with the state’s emergency spending authorities that allow the governor to spend an essentially unlimited amount of funds on emergency-related activities with very little opportunity for legislative oversight.”

The report comes as a lawsuit to limit Newsom’s emergency authority — brought by Republican Assemblymembers Kevin Kiley and James Gallagher — awaits a ruling from a California appellate court.

Newsom’s budget proposal would extend by one year his administration’s ability to allocate emergency funds with minimal legislative notification, setting a new deadline of June 2022. It would also allow his administration to spend new federal or private funds without legislative approval or notification, in what the legislative analyst characterized as “a significant expansion of already fairly broad authority” and “an overreach of administrative authority.”

2. California likely to enter drought

Image via iStock

The Sierra Nevada snowpack that supplies around a third of California’s water is at 61% of its historical average, the latest indication that the Golden State could be heading into another severe drought, state water officials said Tuesday. The state’s two largest reservoirs are also significantly drier than usual, with Lake Shasta holding 68% of the water it normally contains this time of year and Lake Oroville holding 55%. As winter draws to a close without significant storms on the horizon, Californians could soon face their first water restrictions in five years, officials say.

Already, Central Valley growers are deciding which crops to save and which to sacrifice if the outlook doesn’t improve, and some urban water agencies are asking customers to conserve water. Dry conditions could also exacerbate California’s fire season this summer and fall, following last year’s record-breaking season.

3. Drug overdose deaths rise rapidly

Used needles are collected during a weekly needle distribution by HIV Education and Prevention Project of Alameda County on San Pablo Avenue in Oakland on Jan. 13, 2017. Photo by Ray Chavez, Bay Area News Group
Used needles collected during a weekly needle distribution by HIV Education and Prevention Project of Alameda County on Jan. 13, 2017. Photo by Ray Chavez, Bay Area News Group

The number of drug-related overdose deaths in California has increased 50% since 2017, compared to 15% nationally, according to a Tuesday report from California Health Policy Strategies. This appears to be largely due to the synthetic opioid fentanyl, whose role in overdose deaths skyrocketed by 541% during the same period. Lake, Mendocino and San Francisco counties had the highest average rate of overdose deaths, though Lake County had by far the highest rate: More than 60 per 100,000 residents died from drug overdoses in 2019, compared to around 40 per 100,000 residents in Mendocino and San Francisco counties.

Other key findings:

  • Blacks and Native Americans are the state’s two most overrepresented groups in terms of overdose fatalities. They make up 11% and 4% of California’s overdose deaths, despite representing 6% and 1% of the population, respectively.
  • Californians between the ages of 45 and 64 had the highest rate of overdose deaths.
  • Men died from drug overdoses at a rate 2.5 times greater than women.

Lawmakers have proposed several possible solutions to the state’s surge in overdose deaths, including paying people to curb their drug use and setting up safe injection sites.

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CalMatters commentary

Time to reopen schools: I’ve watched the achievement gap in my class grow wider, and it is only going to get worse if we don’t reopen, writes Tracey Schwengel, a third grade teacher at a public elementary school in Santa Monica.

No support for Serra statue: Public statues and streets named for brutal and unprincipled leaders carry shame for all of us and should be removed, argues Merryl Kravitz, a professor at New Mexico Highlands University.

Other things worth your time

Seven counties exit the purple tier and move into red. // Los Angeles Times

California Indigenous fear their COVID deaths are undercounted. // CalMatters

Sutter Health may cancel 90,000 coronavirus vaccine appointments. // Sacramento Bee

Congress is investigating One Medical over its vaccine distribution in San Francisco and other cities. // San Francisco Chronicle

In California, caregivers of people with disabilities are being turned away at vaccine sites. // California Healthline

CVS, Walgreens challenge Newsom’s comments about unused vaccine doses. // Los Angeles Times

What ‘Saturday Night Live’ got wrong about Newsom. // San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco offered permanent housing to homeless staying in hotels, but 70% said no. Here’s why. // San Francisco Chronicle

California city becomes first in U.S. to ban new gas stations. // Gizmodo

Orange County Republicans take aim at California’s bullet train. // Orange County Register

Special election for state Senate seat in Los Angeles County draws crowded field. // Los Angeles Times

See you tomorrow.

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Emily Hoeven wrote the daily WhatMatters newsletter for three years at CalMatters . Her reporting, essays, and opinion columns have been published in San Francisco Weekly, the Deseret News, the San Francisco...