News & Insights

This is some blog description about this site

Guest Post: Social Justice, Economic Vitality and the California Dream

BY Manuel Pastor
Manuel Pastor
Manuel Pastor directs the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity and co-d
User is currently offline
| Dec 13, 2012 2

By Manuel Pastor, University of Southern California

As part of our 75th anniversary, Irvine commissioned a series of posts from California experts and thought leaders about the state’s most important trends and how we might collectively respond to them. This post is the last in the series. We invite you to read other posts in the series and share your reactions below.

The lore of California has been one of a place of plenty — abundant harvests, growing industries, excesses of land and opportunity. While that vision has not always rung true for some, in the last few years, many in the state are starting to question if there is, indeed, enough to go around. It’s little wonder they wonder: earnings for those in the bottom four-fifths of the state’s income distribution have been falling for decades, and the current recession has left gaping holes in both our state budget and our private hopes.

My colleague, Angela Glover Blackwell, and I have a saying — it’s more hers than mine, but she’s a sharer — “equity is the superior growth model.” It’s not just warm-hearted rhetoric: Using sophisticated statistical techniques, we have been able to demonstrate that metropolitan regions that pay attention to reducing inequality and racial segregation experience more sustained economic expansion, with our seemingly controversial results confirmed by none other than the Cleveland Federal Reserve.

Of course, much of that research was conducted in better times in America (although in one study, we noted that the positive effects of equity on growth were actually more pronounced in weaker regions such as Detroit). Still, the policies that often flowed from the analysis — living wage ordinances, community benefits agreements, affordable-housing requirements — were largely predicated on the notion that expansion would occur and redistribution could be built-in.

So what do you do when the bubble bursts?

What happens when it’s not just the jobs of janitors that are unstable, but also those of the software engineers whose offices they clean? What do we do when the pensions of public sector workers are threatened but so is the solvency of the cities they help to run? What is the plan not just to get benefits to local residents but also to make sure that development itself occurs?

We know the wrong answer: growth now, equity later. Trickle-down economics has a poor record, and it’s a particularly bad recipe for an economy already marked by sharp disparities. As Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has noted, inequality has its price — in the form of declining investment in schools as the wealthy bail out of the educational system, in lower consumer demand as middle class incomes decline, and in excessively risky financial instruments as the rich scramble to park their assets.

That said, those of us on the social justice side of the equation also need to turn our attention to how we generate and not just redistribute economic expansion.

This will mean better linking efforts to promote the public good and the private sector, including better coordination of regional business programs and job training in community colleges; linking procurement for transit projects with opportunities for local and state employment; connecting venture capital in green technology with grassroots efforts to build worker expertise; supporting the expansion of tourism even as we improve the climate for unionization of hotel workers. The list goes on and on.

It’ll also mean acknowledging some hard truths. Our state tax base is too small — but we also need to honestly deal with the mismanagement of what is there. Developers do have a tendency to turn a deaf ear to communities — but our permitting system also needs streamlining because growing cities are dynamic cities. Our teachers do deserve better — but we also have to hold them accountable to effectively training a next generation of Californians.

Meeting the challenge of both policy innovation and critical self-examination will require a social justice leadership that is capable of engaging the basics of economic development — and one that is confident that the pro-equity, pro-growth message will win the day. It will also require a business leadership that gets it — that knows that the state’s future, like any company’s future, depends on the skills, teamwork and optimism of its workers.

And this is how funders can help. First, they can help infuse social justice leadership with the best economic thinking even as they help business leaders understand their self-interest in inclusion. Second, they can play a convening role; rather than have the economic strategies being cooked in one room and the justice strategies in another, they can bring together new sets of people for new types of conversations. Third, they can help to fund new projects and policy experiments that show not just that equity is the superior growth model but exactly how it is.

We will get past this recession. But whether we get to the California we really want in 2037 will depend on the quality of not just our human capital but also our social capital. We need to restore our tattered civic infrastructure, turn negotiations into discussions, and insist that growth and equity are not opposite ends of a seesaw trade-off but rather the twin pillars of a strong state.

0 votes


Manuel Pastor directs the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity and co-directs the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration at the University of Southern California. His most recent book, co-authored with Chris Benner, is Just Growth: Inclusion and Prosperity in America’s Metropolitan Regions.


Susan Larson Monday, 31 December 2012

California's problems run deep. The San Francisco Bay Area has become the kind of place where even many people who can afford to live here no longer want to. When you combine the brain drain, which I see happening all around me every day, the high cost of living, extreme lack of equity, growing gap between rich and middle class, and the closing gap between middle class and poor (not in the good way), you've got a recipe for disaster. Heading for Colorado.

Business Loan Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Everything is very open and very clear explanation of issues. was truly information. Your website is very useful. Thanks for sharing.
Business Loan

The opinions expressed in the Comments section are those of the commenters and not necessarily those of the Foundation.

Submit a comment

Guest Saturday, 29 November 2014


Irvine Publications


Aaron Pick
2 post(s)
"As Senior Program Officer of the Youth program, Aa..."
Alex Barnum
57 post(s)
"Alex Barnum was a Communications Officer at The Ja..."
Amy Dominguez-Arms
16 post(s)
"As Director of the California Democracy program, A..."
Angela Glover Blackwell
"Angela Glover Blackwell is the founder and CEO of ..."
Anne Stanton
10 post(s)
"As Director of the Youth program, Anne Stanton lea..."
Anne Vally
7 post(s)
"Anne Vally was with The James Irvine Foundation fr..."
Catherine Hazelton
14 post(s)
"As a Senior Program Officer for the California Dem..."
Chris Henrikson
1 post(s)
"Chris Henrikson is the Founder and Executive Direc..."
Connie Malloy
2 post(s)
"Connie Galambos Malloy is Senior Program Officer f..."
Daniel Silverman
58 post(s)
"A native Californian, Daniel Silverman leads the F..."
Don Howard
5 post(s)
"Don Howard was appointed President and Chief Execu..."
Doug Chapin
3 post(s)
"Doug Chapin directs the Future of California Elect..."
Ekta Chopra
1 post(s)
"Ekta Chopra is Irvine's Director of Technology, le..."
Greg Avis
5 post(s)
"Greg Avis is chair of the board of The James Irvin..."
Hilary McLean
1 post(s)
"Hilary McLean serves as deputy director of the Lin..."
Jeanne Sakamoto
4 post(s)
"Jeanne Sakamoto has worked at Irvine since 2004 an..."
Jennifer Ortega
1 post(s)
"As the California director for the national busine..."
Jim Canales
56 post(s)
"Jim Canales served as President and Chief Executiv..."
John Jenks
3 post(s)
"As Treasurer and Chief Investment Officer, John di..."
Josephine Ramirez
17 post(s)
"As Arts Program Director, Josephine is leading the..."
Joyce Sood
8 post(s)
"As Digital Communications Officer, Joyce Sood lead..."
Karthick Ramakrishnan
"Karthick Ramakrishnan is associate professor of po..."
Kenji Treanor
4 post(s)
"Kenji Treanor has worked at Irvine since 2004 and ..."
Kevin Rafter
7 post(s)
"As Manager of Impact Assessment and Learning, Kevi..."
Lisa García Bedolla
"Lisa García Bedolla is Associate Professor in the ..."
Manuel Pastor
1 post(s)
"Manuel Pastor directs the Program for Environmenta..."
Mark Baldassare
1 post(s)
"Mark Baldassare is the president and CEO of the Pu..."
Ralph Lewin
1 post(s)
"Ralph Lewin is President and CEO of Cal Humanities..."
Raphael J. Sonenshein
"Raphael J. Sonenshein is the Executive Director of..."
Ray Delgado
55 post(s)
"Ray Delgado was with The James Irvine Foundation f..."
Reshma Shamasunder
"Reshma Shamasunder has served as Executive Directo..."
Rick Noguchi
4 post(s)
"Rick Noguchi has been with Irvine since 2008 and h..."
Stephen Levy
1 post(s)
"Stephen Levy is director of the Center for Continu..."
Ted Russell
3 post(s)
"Ted Russell has been with Irvine since 2005 and he..."
Thuy Nguyen Kumar
77 post(s)
"As Communications Project Manager, Thuy provides p..."
Vince Stewart
2 post(s)
"Vince Stewart was a Senior Program Officer for the..."