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There can be no debate that California is becoming an economically stratified state. As the economy has shifted away from traditional middle-class employment to a two-tiered pattern of jobs created primarily at the higher and lower wage levels, middle income has become increasingly a gap separating the extremes rather than the path for generational economic progress.  And while lower- and moderate-income Californians have a high awareness of the different avenues available for upward mobility, the crippling rise in living costs has increased their concern over the consequences from making the wrong choice. 

For more than a year, the California Business Roundtable and its partner organization the Center for Jobs and the Economy, supported by a grant from the James Irvine Foundation, embarked on a comprehensive and unique study to identify key barriers to upward mobility for the state’s working poor. This study, unlike many that seek to understand the needs of the working poor, includes quantitative and qualitative data from a series of focus groups and a statewide survey of the working poor from various regions and ethnicities, which is then placed against current state policies and practices. This approach allowed the research to focus on the barriers identified by the working poor themselves. What’s more, the research also included a statewide survey of business leaders, who are also an important part of the solution. Employers are job creators; without a strong workforce pipeline, lower-income workers will not have access to the economic rungs that can help them move out of poverty and lower incomes and into the middle class.


Working with a diverse coalition of stakeholders, including high-profile civil rights leaders, economists, and those who have dedicated their careers to helping bring more Californians out of poverty, the Business Roundtable, in collaboration with this coalition, has developed a set of policy recommendations to removing barriers and creating opportunities for upward mobility.


In conducting this project, many of the issues are necessarily associated with the social safety net and efforts to reduce poverty. The focus of the overall research project, however, is not on poverty in California but rather the broader challenges, barriers, and effectiveness of existing efforts public and private to facilitate upward economic mobility in the state, in particular paths to pursue higher income employment. Moving Californians out of poverty is only a first step. The goal must be to continue their upward opportunities and remove the barriers now creating a two-tier economy and social structure in our state.

Stakeholder Roundtable Group

  • Nathan Ahle, Fresno Chamber of Commerce

  • Robert Apodaca, Greenlining Institute

  • Herman Gallegos, Civil Rights Advocate

  • John Gamboa, California Community Builders

  • Paul Granillo, Inland Empire Economic Partnership

  • Nicholas Ortiz, Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce

  • Dave Puglia, Western Growers Association

  • Nolan V. Rollins, Los Angeles Urban League (formerly)

  • Dorothy Rothrock, California Manufacturers & Technology Association

  • Jessie Ryan, The Campaign for College Opportunity

  • Shawn Lewis, National Federation of Independent Businesses, California

  • Michele Steeb, Saint John's Program for Real Change

  • Gary Toebben, Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce

  • Ronald Vera, Vera & Barbosa


Research Advisory Group
  • Andrew Chang, Andrew Chang & Company LLC

  • David A. Flaks, Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation

  • Michael Shires, Ph.D., Pepperdine University

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