Californian’s overall well-being on the rise, but stark disparities continue
Speaker 1: (00:00)
California is the most populous and diverse state in the country. And for years, in spite of setbacks, like the pandemic, the state's GDP has grown and competed on the international stage. But what do these economic factors really mean for Californians? How are people actually faring a new study by measure of America? A project of the social science to research council aims to answer that question by providing a portrait of California that focuses less on economic measures and more on people's wellbeing. Kristin Lewis is the director of measure of America and the studies lead author, and she joins me now. Welcome, Kristin, thanks
Speaker 2: (00:37)
So much, Christina, for having me.
Speaker 1: (00:38)
Your study shows that overall well be being has steadily increased over the past two decades here in California, but that these gains haven't been equal. I wanna get to that, but first, can you even explain how one begins to measure wellbeing and how that's different than say other measures that people look at such as unemployment? So
Speaker 2: (00:59)
Measure of America helps the a nation assess its progress by focusing on how people are doing, rather than relying solely on economic indicators like GDP. So in the us, you know, we tend to follow money metrics like GDP, as you said, unemployment, the stock market, all these things very closely. And we use them to gauge how well we're doing as society. And these economic indicators provide really important information, but using them as proxies for societal progress paints, um, and incomplete, and sometimes misleading picture. So we really need to focus much more attention on data, um, on the wellbeing of ordinary people. So that's what we try to do with our reports portrait of California. Um, the hallmark of our work is the American human development index. It's a measure of wellbeing that combines the best available data on health, education, and income, which are, you know, three fundamental building blocks of a good life into a single number that falls on a scale from zero to 10. And we use this and the scores to understand wellbeing across race and ethnicity, gender, and place.
Speaker 1: (02:09)
So what did you find? What were some of the major takeaways in this latest edition of portrait of California?
Speaker 2: (02:15)
What we found is that first of all, um, we did our first portrait of California in 2011. And since then we have, have found that, um, California as a whole has improved, it had higher scores than the country as a whole then, and still does now and has improved at a quicker pace. Um, so that's good news. We did find though that there are stubborn, um, racial and ethnic disparities that persist the some good news is that, um, the school or for Latino Californians, uh, went up a lot over that time. And the score for Asian Californians also went up. What was very dismaying is there was a big drop in wellbeing for native Americans and also for black Californians. So when you
Speaker 1: (02:59)
Say there's an increase and a drop in wellbeing, can you gimme a little more detail about that? Does that mean that their income went up, that their life expectancy went down? What exactly are we calculating when you say that their numbers went up or down?
Speaker 2: (03:12)
The score for Latinos went up by about 40% over this period of time and what happened to make that happen? Um, their earnings went up, their life expectancy went up and, um, their educational attainment also went up. So, um, basically we use, as I said, three areas, uh, to measure wellbeing. So for health, we use life expectancy at birth for, um, access to knowledge or education. We use educational degree attainment for adults. So for 25 and school enrollment for kids ages three to, um, 24 young people as well. And then for, um, standard of living, we use median personal earnings. So those are the wages and salaries of everyone. Um, who's working ages 16 and above what we saw for native Americans in terms of, uh, the dismaying drop in wellbeing. They lost a lot in terms of life expectancy. So that really pulled down their score.
Speaker 1: (04:05)
What do you think is driving these disparities?
Speaker 2: (04:08)
Well, a lot of things, it's a, it's a complicated sort of set of circumstances. I think one thing to make sure, um, we acknowledge is that the disparities we see between racial and ethnic groups, um, didn't just come out of nowhere. They don't, there's nothing sort of natural about them. They don't just happen. They're the results of policy choices made over well centuries in a, in, in essence, in California, by people in power. And that's really, what's driving a lot of the disparities that we see today.
Speaker 1: (04:39)
So we're, you're in San Diego. How is San Diego county faring? So
Speaker 2: (04:44)
If you look at the San Diego, um, Metro area, so that's San Diego, Chula Vista and Carlsbad, and it's San Diego county, of course, this area scores 6.20 on our 10 point scale. So just to refresh your memory, that's, um, above of the California average, which is 5.8, five San Diegos, uh, can expect to live to 82.6 years, they have an educational index score of 5.8, which again is above the state average and have median personal earnings about 40,000. So that's the wages and salaries of all workers over 16. So San Diego greater San Diego ranks three out of the 32, uh, major Metro areas in California.
Speaker 1: (05:28)
What do you hope legislators and researchers do with this information in order to address the inequalities that you're finding, but also build off what seems to be a success in a lot of people's wellbeing?
Speaker 2: (05:41)
I think there are two things to focus on. One is as we move sort of out of, hopefully at some point, the COVID pandemic, the areas that scored the lowest, the struggling California areas, those are the areas that were hardest hit, um, by COVID. Those are the areas that face the steepest climb to recovery, and those are areas where we should really invest our recovery dollars. So that's the first thing kind of moving out of COVID 19. And then the second thing to do is to help people, especially again, in struggling California, build a kind of human security. They need to withstand, uh, the next disaster. That's gonna be coming our way inevitably. So, um, that means making sure everyone, including undocumented people have health insurance, it means, um, help finding ways to keep people from falling into homelessness and all these kinds of things that build so security against the sort of everyday challenges we face and also disasters like COVID 19, like the fires and, and things like this.
Speaker 1: (06:45)
I've been speaking with Kristen Lewis director of measure of America. Thank you so much for this important study.
Speaker 2: (06:51)
Thanks for having me, Christine. I really appreciate it.
California is the most populous and diverse state in the country. And in spite of economic setbacks caused by the pandemic, the state’s GDP has grown and competed on the international stage. If California were a sovereign country, it would boast the 5th largest economy in the world.
But what do these economic factors really mean for Californians?
A new study by Measure of America, a project of the Social Science Research Council, aims to answer that question by providing a portrait of California, focused less on economic measures and more on people’s well-being.
“A Portrait of California 2021-2022” provides a detailed picture of how Californians are faring when it comes to health, education and economic opportunities. Using the American Human Development Index, the study measures Californians’ well-being across racial, ethnic and gender in order to identify disparities.
The study found that overall well-being levels have steadily increased over the past 20 years, but those gains have not been distributed equally, with some groups falling behind.
Latino Californians saw the largest increase in life-expectancy and overall well-being, but disparities in education continue. The overall well-being of Black and Native American Californians has actually fallen in the past two decades.
Kristen Lewis, the study’s lead author and director of Measure of America, joined Midday Edition on Thursday to share more about what these findings mean and what they mean for San Diego.