The West region encompasses California, a state of contrasts and variety that often serves as a political, cultural and economic barometer for the rest of the country. From 2002 through 2015, the foundation has given 255 grants to 78 grantees for a total cumulative investment of $79 million in the West region. Marguerite Casey Foundation currently supports 47 grants to 37 grantees.
California contains 38.8 million residents within several geographically and ethnically unique regions. Some California industries enjoy phenomenal prosperity, especially in technology, the movie industry and certain agricultural sectors, but many families still live in extreme poverty and inequality; in fact, California sets the national standard for disparities between the rich and poor. Additionally, California residents are diverse—more than half are Latino or Asian, a quarter are foreign-born, and the state is one of the main destinations for unauthorized immigrants in the United States.
Currently, California’s job growth rate has increased five years in a row, the housing market continues to thrive and the construction industry regained jobs lost during the recession. Many high-skill industries are also experiencing strong growth that is projected to continue over the next decade. But the state continues to have one of the highest levels of income inequality in a country experiencing the highest level of wealth inequality in its history. Although California is recovering from the Great Recession, it still has the highest percentage of people living in poverty compared to other states. High prosperity for some has created a perfect storm of high poverty, costly housing and lagging job growth for others, particularly immigrants and people of color.
Marguerite Casey Foundation’s California grantees and families are facing challenges and opportunities on the following fronts:
Drought and Poverty
California is experiencing the worst drought in history due to record low rainfall and snowpack. In 2015 California’s agricultural economy lost about $1.84 billion and 10,100 seasonal jobs, largely held by immigrants, because of the drought. The economic repercussions will hit rural and low-income communities hardest and exacerbate family poverty, especially in the Central Valley, where the agricultural sector is most concentrated.
Housing Affordability and Living Wage
The cost of housing is increasingly out of reach for California families. Approximately 46 percent of residents are renters and many renters are extremely low-income. In parts of California, a person working at the current state minimum wage of $9.00 per hour would have to work 92 hours per week to afford the current fair market rate for a one-bedroom apartment.
Criminal Justice Reform
For decades, criminal justice policies have destabilized low-income families and communities of color. These policies negatively reverberate through employment, education, housing and health for individuals and snowball into challenges for families and entire communities. The impact of these policies falls hardest on communities of color; currently one in ten Black males in his 30s is incarcerated in California.
For over a decade, Marguerite Casey Foundation has invested in building the capacity of organizations, resulting in high-impact community organizations that are building infrastructure at all levels, and strengthening the collective power and voice of low-income families and communities of color. Marguerite Casey Foundation’s investment in the West region has helped grantees achieve significant wins that have a national impact. Grantees worked with networks and families on national platform issues, including minimum wage increases, criminal justice reform, and education. Grantees have also developed more refined strategies and analytics in order to more effectively address specific challenges facing their local communities. They share information and collaborate to incorporate civic engagement into work to reform taxes and fight unfair state budgets, which will ultimately achieve more equity and economic prosperity for low-income families in California.
 USA Today, October 10, 2015. States with widest gaps between rich, poor. Thomas C. Frohlich. http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2015/10/10/24-7-wall-st-states-rich-poor/73618858/
 “New Americans in California: The Economic Power of Immigrants, Latinos, and Asians in the Golden State.” American Immigrant Council, January 2015. http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/sites/default/files/docs/new_americans_in_california_2015.pdf
 “California’s Future: Economy.” Public Policy Institute of California, February 2015. http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/report/R_215SBR.pdf
 America’s wealth gap between middle-income and upper-income families is widest on record.” Pew Research Center, December 17, 2014. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/12/17/wealth-gap-upper-middle-income/
 U.S. Census Supplemental Poverty Measure http://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2015/demo/p60-254.pdf
 “Drought costs California agriculture $1.84B and 10,100 jobs in 2015.” UC Davis, August 18, 2015. http://news.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=11281