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January 2021, Volume 27, Number 1

California: Covid, Elections

California had a second wave of Covid in winter 2020-21, prompting the state to order counties and cities to issue stay-at-home orders as hospital intensive care beds filled with Covid patients. Doctors learned how to treat Covid patients more effectively, but the rising number of Covid cases meant ever more people were hospitalized.

Small business owners opposed the stay-at-home orders, calling on city leaders to create “sanctuary cities” that allowed people to choose whether they wanted to eat outdoors or enter smaller stores. With unemployment rising and benefits ending, San Joaquin Valley food banks saw unprecedented demand for aid.

California’s Employment Development Department struggled to pay unemployment benefits quickly and accurately. Between March and November 2020, EDD paid $110 billion in UI benefits, with three to eight percent deemed improper, meaning that up to $9 billion worth of UI benefits went to ineligible recipients. There were prosecutions of prisoners and others who fraudulently receiving UI benefits.

Who should get priority for vaccines? There was general agreement that front-line health care workers and those living and working in nursing homes should be first in line, but less agreement on who comes next. Advocates for essential workers said that they should be next in line to prevent the spread of the virus, while advocates for the elderly said that those over 75 should be next in line.

DHS-CDC guidelines define 70 percent of US workers as essential, even though many managers and office support workers in essential infrastructure sectors do not interact with the public in ways that front-line police, transport and retail workers do. The CDC defined 87 million workers as essential, over half of the US labor force of 160 million.

As Americans began to be vaccinated against Covid in December 2020, polls showed that a third of US residents do not plan to be vaccinated. The EEOC announced in December 2020 that employers may lawfully require their employees to be vaccinated to keep their jobs.

California had its worst fire season on record in 2020, as 8,500 wildfires burned over 4.1 million acres and killed at least 31 people before rains ended the fire season. Five of the six largest fires in the state’s history occurred in August and September 2020.

Election. A record 22 million Californians were registered to vote in November 2020, and almost 18 million cast ballots. Biden won 11 million or 64 percent of the state’s votes while Trump won six million or 34 percent. Democrats won 42 of California’s 53 House seats, 60 of the 80 seats in the state Assembly, and 30 of the 40 seats in the state Senate, giving Democrats super majorities in both houses of the state legislature.

Voters considered 12 propositions in November 2020, and approved five. California is overwhelmingly Democratic, but voters refused to raise taxes or require gig workers to be employees.

Over $650 million was spent on ads for and against the 12 propositions, including $240 million on Prop 22 to keep gig drivers independent contractors. Over 90 percent of Prop 22 spending was for a yes vote, which won 58-42 percent and overturned AB 5, a 2019 state law that required gig workers to be employees. Prop 22’s approval raised the value of Uber and Lyft stock by $20 billion in the week after the vote.

Prop 22 requires gig drivers to earn at least 120 percent of the minimum wage and to receive subsidies for health insurance. Voter approval of Prop 22 may signal the emergence of a third type of worker, beyond employer and employee.

The next most expensive battle was over Prop 15, which would have revised Prop 13 to allow commercial property to be reappraised and taxed at its current value rather than its purchase price. Prop 15 failed 48 to 52 percent. Each side spent about $70 million; the result was a defeat for unions that wanted more taxes to increase spending on social services. The approval of Prop 13 in 1978 is considered the beginnings of a tax revolt that spread from California around the US.

Prop 16, which would have overturned the ban on affirmative action approved by voters with Prop 209 in 1996, was defeated by 57-43 percent. Analysts interpreted the Prop 16 vote as a signal that even in majority-minority California, which has not elected a Republican to statewide office since 2006, there is opposition to affirmative action. Nine states including California ban affirmative action.

What does the defeat of Prop 16 mean? Some polls suggest that most Americans do not agree with progressive Democrats on the need for affirmative action, abortion, limits on guns, more immigration and less policing. More conservative Democrats urge race-neutral polices that disproportionately benefit minorities and women, such as expanding Medicaid or higher minimum wages.

Governor Gavin Newsom proposed a record $227 billion budget for 2021-22, including $90 billion for K-12 schools and $1 billion for improving resilience against wildfires. Stock market gains in 2020 promise to increase state income taxes that provide two-thirds of the state’s revenue.

Population. California lost population in 2020 for the first time since 1900, joining nine other states that are each expected to lose one Congressional seat: Alabama, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia. Texas is expected to gain three seats, Florida two, and five others may gain one each: Arizona, Colorado, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon.

California had almost 40 million residents in 2020: they were 39 percent Hispanic; 37 percent white; 15 percent Asian American; and six percent Black. California lost US residents to other states, and gained residents via immigration. About 55 percent of California residents were born in the state, almost 30 percent in foreign countries, and 15 percent in other states.

Between 2010 and 2020, Texas gained 4.2 million people; Florida 2.9 million; California 2.1 million; and North Carolina and Arizona gained a million each. Illinois lost 243,000 residents over the decade, the most of any state.

California has a $3 trillion economy, larger than that of the UK, and four of the largest US cities, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose and San Francisco.


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