It is commonly said that societies are judged by how they take care of their most vulnerable. California’s recent political-economic history has been tumultuous with short-sighted fixes to complex problems preventing any opportunities for long term growth or stability—leaving our poor, sick, and elderly to fall to the wayside. While it is important to address the redundancies and red tape of government in order to properly reinvest in our schools and social programs, California needs dramatic changes to the way that the state addresses complex problems. With the ever-deepening cuts in social service programs including “safety net” services, more and more Californians are in jeopardy of going without the basic human needs of food, shelter, jobs, education, and healthcare. If California continues on its current path, the accessibility to and availability of basic human needs for our most vulnerable residents are at stake.
As long as our elected legislators place personal priorities and partisan political party bickering above the general interests of ALL Californians, our “Golden State” will continue its precipitous slide into economic decay and social disarray. Increased crime is inevitable given the unfortunate confluence occurring between an education system that did not train a workforce for the 21st century and no jobs because our businesses have been fleeing California due to the cost of living. Once known as the most innovative, progressive state in the nation with the best educational system, California now ranks 47 out of 50 in terms of dollars spent per pupil. According to the Department of Justice and the National Education Association, California currently spends approximately $9,000 for every student enrolled while spending about $47,000 per prison inmate. Further socioeconomic alarm is seen in the overwhelming number of jobseekers, struggling to find a living wage for their families, while debates in Sacramento ensue regarding a $1 billion corporate tax break that would give California companies an incentive to move out of state—taking jobs with them. Even worse, almost 46 million Californians lack basic health insurance, many as a result of layoffs. California is currently the 6th highest in the nation in terms of percentage of the population without health coverage.
From 2000 to 2010, California’s unemployment rate has risen from 4.9% to 12.4%! California cannot afford to continue on its current path, but must move forward and adopt a new model approaching comprehensive educational reform that focuses on providing its residents with the basic services and incentives needed to maximize their individual success and, at the same time, ensure the success of our great state.
Complex and comprehensive solutions are needed to solve the problems facing California today. Consider a shift in the business perspective where corporations pursue a “triple bottom-line,” where creating jobs and being community-minded are just as important as making a profit. Community equity is not just advocated solely by non-profit organizations but ardently prevailed by individuals involved in the activities of their home community. Our day to day practices should reflect our desire for environmental stability to ensure that our world’s precious resources are utilized wisely. By thinking globally and acting locally California can stay at the forefront of innovation. In our rapidly globalizing world, California’s solutions must recognize the interdependence of local and global issues in order to address our increasing complex domestic problems. To do so, mutual leadership must be collaborated among three sectors–government, business, and civil society. Our leaders must have the courage necessary to divert California on a new path–to have the public will/motivation to make education a priority in the state budget as well as the political will and courage to make the difficult choices required to improve our education system by reducing the redundancies/inefficiencies and increasing the accessibility of individual growth and academic achievement.
Kerry Doi is President/CEO of the Pacific Asian Consortium in Employment (PACE).