Opinion

Dan Walters: State policies exacerbate poverty by raising living costs

dwalters@sacbee.comJune 1, 2014 

CNN, the television news network, offers a handy website calculator that allows a user to compare the cost-of-living differentials among the nation’s towns and cities.

It reveals, for instance, that someone contemplating a move from Austin, the capital of Texas, to Sacramento would have to pay 22 percent more for otherwise identical basics such as groceries, housing, utilities, transportation and health care. And that doesn’t take into account California’s substantially higher taxes.

Using CNN’s calculator to make various comparisons essentially confirms what most Californians already know – this is a relatively expensive place in which to live.

It’s the reason, for instance, that the Census Bureau, using an alternative method of calculating poverty that includes cost of living, determined that California has the nation’s highest rate with nearly a quarter of its 38 million residents impoverished.

Housing is especially expensive in California, as the CNN calculator confirms – 52 percent higher in Sacramento than in Austin. And with housing usually a family’s highest expense, it really bites those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder, even if it’s not bothersome to those at the top.

The evolution of California into a two-tiered society – a huge impoverished subpopulation at the bottom, an incredibly rich overclass at the top and a shrinking middle class – makes the state a poster child for income disparity and generates no end of political hand-wringing.

Liberal legislators propose all sorts of remedies, ranging from increasing the minimum wage and welfare benefits to raising taxes on the wealthy.

However, they never examine how their own policies may be contributing to the syndrome by raising the costs of living.

Restrictive land-use policies are certainly a factor in high housing costs, while green-energy mandates are raising utility rates sharply and soon will push gasoline prices, already among the nation’s highest, even higher.

Moreover, as basic living costs rise, they put upward pressure on wages in all sectors, which translate into higher costs for other services and commodities.

For those who can afford to live here, high costs are offset by the other amenities of living in California, such as its scenery and mild weather.

For those at the other end of the ladder, however, living in California is a struggle to put roofs over their heads, food on their tables, clothes on their children and gas in their cars, and to stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

It’s fine to talk about government programs to help the poor, but wouldn’t it be better to alleviate the high living costs they face every day, and to create an economic climate that would give them more opportunities to climb the ladder through better jobs?

Or at the very least, not consciously push their living costs even higher?

Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, www.sacbee.com/walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.

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