California Feudalism: The Squeeze on the Middle Class

Summary of Study

Bottom Line: California is losing its proud legacy as a land of great opportunity for everyone. Due mostly to surging costs for residents from climate change and land-use policies, the state now confronts a dichotomy of the ultra-rich and a declining middle class. In fact, California has devolved into the national leader in poverty, particularly among its minority and immigrant populations and throughout its interior. More affordable housing options and a focus on blue collar jobs, however, are the key to any chance of statewide revitalization.

Built by dreamers with unlimited aspirations, California’s proud legacy of family, immigrants, rising out of poverty, and constant innovation is now at stake. California has taken on an increasingly feudal cast, with a small but growing group of the ultra-rich, a diminishing middle class, and a large, rising segment of the population that is in or near poverty.

Today, little of California’s population is “living the dream;” even fewer are living it without financial anxiety. Indeed, amidst some of the greatest accumulations of wealth in history, California has emerged as a leader in poverty, particularly among its minority and immigrant populations and throughout its interior.

California’s drift towards an ever more unequal, feudalized society, characterized by concentrated property ownership, persistent poverty levels, and demographic stagnation does not seem to concern our Sacramento leadership. Incredibly, California’s state leaders, and many of its business and civic leaders, are convinced that California, far from being something of a cautionary tale, offers a great “role model” for the rest of the country.

What needs to change?

If California wants to again be a place of opportunity for all, leaders must dial down California’s increasingly expensive, messianic land use and climate change policies, which have dramatically increased housing and energy costs, forcing individuals and companies elsewhere.

This is essential because it will allow the state to develop more housing and middle-class jobs, especially in more affordable areas such as the Central Valley and the Inland Empire. A dramatic reform of California’s education system, which underserves the next generation, particularly in poor and minority communities, needs to be enacted. Other steps, like investing in basic infrastructure—roads, dams, electric transmission—could boost the flagging blue collar economy of the state.

The present analysis looks at the impacts of rising costs on everyday Californians and examines the real-world household finances of different groups within the state.


Read the full study here.

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Most Severely Unaffordable Housing: 2016, 10 Most Populous States

Chapman University


  • California is losing its proud legacy as a land of opportunity, with the poor, immigrants, and minorities being the hardest hit.
  • The state is descending into a growing dichotomy of the haves and have-nots.
  • Surging costs from misguided policies on climate change and land-use offer a great cautionary tale for the rest of the U.S.
  • More affordable housing and a focus on blue collar jobs are central to any chance of a statewide revitalization.

Read the full study here