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Paradise Lost? Californians Observe Their Changing State, Wonder if the California Dream is Still Attainable

With fewer people holding income levels above the cost of living and Sacramento doubling down on government-led programs to boost the economic outcomes of the state’s residents, the verdict remains to be seen whether or not the “California Dream” is well and alive.

As one of the most populated states, boasting the ideal weather and opportunity, California has often been looked upon as a dream for success. In recent times, however, word is spreading online that the quintessential “California Dream” is becoming unachievable. The reasons all differ both left and right, but the overall sentiment remains: California is changing.

Recently, the California Dream Index released their report analyzing the ten indicators of achieving a better life. These economic mobility indicators include critical factors such as whether or not housing is attainable, how widespread broadband access is across the state, air quality, income above cost of living, and if commute to work is reasonable.

Overall, the trends revealed that opportunity for home ownership has continued to stagnate and less Californians actually own their homes. Housing affordability is often measured by the percentage of homeowners who pay less than 30% of their annual income on rent for their home. This number too stagnated.

Commute times to work increased and so did access to broadband, so while California has seen certain living conditions decrease in quality, others have actually been improved.

What’s more, as of 2017, the California Dream index reported that only 63% of the state’s households had income levels above the actual cost of living. Sacramento has sought to change this through lawmaking, such as the recently passed Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery ACT. The legislation boosted fast-food workers’ minimum wages from $15 to $22 an hour.

While this bump in wages is posed to improve living conditions, some have raised concerns about how it may actually harm the workers by creating unaffordable labor and commodity costs. They warn that restaurants will implement more automation through machines and kiosks, rendering the low-skill and entry level jobs typically filled by teenagers and young adults part-time.

In the Orange County Register, opinion writer Steve Greenhut discussed the mythos of the California dream, crafted by “fawning coverage in national magazines and TV ads featured sun-kissed couples playing tennis and cruising in their spectacularly finned sports cars on freeways that paralleled the shimmering Pacific waves.”

Greenhut cited that, regardless of political leanings, California objectively has the nation’s highest poverty rates, leaving businesses to flee the state’s burdensome taxes and regulations and homeowners unable to make payments on the medium home price: “more than $758,000 statewide and $1.3-million in the Bay Area.”

He also shared how poorly California’s public schools are, how the homelessness crisis is rampant, and how overburdened the transportation system appears to be. All of the factors Greenhut noted are echoed in the state’s overall declining population. Whereas the population used to increase by 2.5% annually, now California has lost 400,000 residents within a one year timespan.

Some parts of the state are performing better than others, with travel writers like Ryan Ritchie detailing his escape from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara in LAMag. In Richie’s experience, the Santa Barbara county where nearly 445,000 Californians call home has served as a welcome vacation to him that encapsulates a more nostalgic view of the state compared to his home county of Los Angeles.

It would appear that the verdict is divided on whether or not “California dreamin’” is a relic of the past or a mantra for the future. Though some see no path to success for the Golden State, others believe that there is still a glimmer of hope. 

So what do you think, is the California dream still alive?

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