Tue, Jun

Latino Politicians Putting Climate Change Ahead of Constituents


POLITICS-Racial and economic inequality may be key issues facing America today, but the steps often pushed by progressives, including minority politicians, seem more likely to exacerbate these divisions than repair them. 

In a broad arc of policies affecting everything from housing to employment, the agenda being adopted serves to stunt upward mobility, self-sufficiency and property ownership.

This great betrayal has many causes, but perhaps the largest one has been the abandonment of broad-based economic growth traditionally embraced by Democrats. Instead, they have opted for a policy agenda that stresses environmental puritanism and notions of racial redress, financed in large part by the windfall profits of Silicon Valley and California’s highly taxed upper-middle class.

Nowhere in California is this agenda more clearly manifested than with state Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León (above), who represents impoverished East Los Angeles. De León has proclaimed addressing “climate change” as the Senate’s “top priority” and is calling for, among other things, disinvestment from fossil fuel companies. Rarely considered seem to be the actual impacts of these policies on the daily lives of millions of working- and middle-class Californians.

War on Blue Collar Jobs

Despite vastly exaggerated claims about the prospects for so-called green jobs since the passage of Assembly Bill 32, the landmark 2006 climate change law, California is adopting policies detrimental to growing the higher-wage blue-collar sector. Green policies favoring expensive alternative energy have fostered energy prices that, for industrial users, are an estimated 57 percent higher than the national average. No surprise, then, that California has produced barely half the rate of new manufacturing jobs as the rest of the nation.

Particularly troubling is the shift of key industrial facilities – such as new semiconductor plants or the new Tesla battery factory – to the intermountain West or even Oregon, with its cheap hydropower. This trend pushes both construction and full-time operation jobs, usually high wage, to other states.

Higher gas prices are yet another place where blue-collar industries and households are hit hard. Due largely to our climate change policies, drivers in California, a state rich in oil resources, now suffer gas prices that approach twice the national average. The rest of the country may be paying in the mid-$2-a-gallon range, but the truck driver going from Chino to Long Beach pays upward of $5 a gallon. This won’t much bother the affluent greens of the Bay Area or Malibu, but will cut seriously into the budgets of working- and-middle class people, many of them ethnic minorities.

At the same time, other policies tied to climate change have restricted the construction of new houses, compared with other states. As a result, California’s construction growth – particularly for labor-intensive single-family homes – has been slow, despite rising real estate prices along the coast.

The current planning regime tends to make housing more expensive, smaller and less family-friendly, something that is at cross purposes with the desires of minorities with larger, often multigenerational households. Rather than boosting the economy, high housing costs, coupled with sagging income growth, have transformed California into the state with the highest rate of poverty; nearly a quarter of residents in Los Angeles and Orange counties live below the poverty line. Overall unemployment remains consistently above the national average, and the percentage of people no longer seeking work remains considerably higher than average.

This vision of a radically decarbonized California economy may thrill wealthy greens living along the coast, not to mention Gov. Jerry Brown, our state’s climate high priest. But even he knows California’s efforts will have little-to-no impact on the actual climate. One has to wonder whether even his ostensible justification for such policies – leading the way for others – is sensible since making more people poor is unlikely to have much appeal in developing countries, where most growth in carbon emissions is concentrated.

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And what about areas like de León’s district? This is where the rapid, and seemingly relentless, deindustrialization of Los Angeles has hit hardest. Like its longtime rivals New York and Chicago, the City of the Angels has seen its once-diverse industrial base erode rapidly, from supporting 900,000 jobs just a decade ago to 363,900 today. Since 2009, these jobs have declined by 3 percent even while rising nationally by 7.5 percent – some 855,000 new jobs – since 2010.

So how does de León’s priority on climate change help his two-thirds-Latino district, where a quarter of households were under the poverty line in 2014 and nearly half of all households earned less than $34,000?

Under the current regime, the tech and service economy of the Bay Area has thrived, but not areas like the Eastside of LA, which depends more on production sectors whose growth has already been impacted by green legislation. The new, ever more ramped-up alternative-energy regulations promoted by de León and Brown could make things worse in coming years.

Unless you fear that rising seas will flood the eastern parts of Los Angeles in the near future, a radically decarbonized economy offers limited benefits to a district where 40 percent of residents don’t have even high school degrees and that is unlikely to emerge soon as a software engineering hotbed or a center of media or finance. Even left-of-center writers like Hector Tobar point out that Los Angeles is becoming something of a “Third World city,” with rising rates of homelessness and dreary prospects for the city’s largely minority working class.

Ultimately, what really matters is restoring opportunity. California can continue to target greenhouse gases at the national scale without undermining its residual blue-collar economy. One would think this approach would be natural for a self-proclaimed “social justice” warrior like de León. But then again, he could also embrace the cause of students who suffer in woefully bad public schools, rather than embrace the agenda of the teachers’ unions. But, then again, de León worked as an organizer for California Teachers Association.

De León, and many other progressives, receive financial backing from green moguls and even more from unions for teachers and other public employees. Meanwhile, the machine shop owner, who employs local skilled tradesman, or the bodega down the street, or the student stuck in miserable schools, seem to merit less attention.

Are there alternatives?

Overall, Latinos in deep-blue California and New York do far worse on virtually every economic measurement – homeownership, rising incomes, employment and entrepreneurship – than national averages. The disparity is even worse in comparison with supposedly unenlightened Texas. A host of key social indicators, such as rates of marriage, church attendance and welfare dependency – an area where California leads the nation – also favor the Lone Star State.

Simply put, California is a great state in which to be rich, but that affluence co-exists alongside unconscionable poverty. Once housing costs are figured in, Latinos in California endure a 33.7 percent poverty rate, and African Americans 30 percent, well above national averages. Texas, also a huge multicultural state but with less natural appeal than California, has black and Latino poverty rates a full 10 percent lower.

Progressives often show an almost mythological faith in the transformative power of education but, despite spending considerably less per student, Texas educators have done far better for Latino and African American children than their California counterparts; the performance gap between Latino and white students is much larger in supposedly enlightened California than in the nation, while significantly smaller in Texas.

Under current leadership, minorities in California can keep demanding their rights and expanding subsidies, but most will face increased headwinds in achieving upward mobility on their own. To achieve that objective, they will need new leadership that demands that the state’s economy work not only for Google executives and unionized public employees, but for those who work construction, production and in the various levels of service. New infrastructure, like roads, improved port facilities and better bus systems could all be part of a progressive, but pro-growth agenda.

This is not just important for minorities or Latinos, now the state’s largest ethnic group, but to every resident of the Golden State. Calls for racial redress and to fight inequality may become more shrill, but they will have little positive effect on alleviating the state’s widening disparities. Preening for the climate change crowd and following the union line may win bucks and accolades for Latino leaders like de León, but the effects are not likely to be all that positive for the people who live in their districts.


(Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com… where this piece was most recently posted …  and Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is also executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism is now available at Amazon and Telos Press. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.)




Vol 13 Issue 62

Pub: Jul 31, 2015

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