California, Here We Come!

With our second national human development report, The Measure of America 2010-2011: Mapping Risks and Resilience, just off to the press, we are now turning full steam ahead to write the human development report for the state of California.

The report will provide an in-depth look at the wellbeing of people living in the largest—and arguably the most diverse—state in America, and provide tools for citizens and policymakers to better understand and engage in California’s political and fiscal challenges. Our aim for the California report is to help mobilize support for action on critical human development issues, foster accountability, and develop alternative yet effective policy solutions.

We obtained mortality data from the California Department of Public Health and earnings and education statistics from the American Community Survey to calculate a Human Development Index for every county, all 233 county groups, each major racial/ethnic group, and women and men. We have elected to use what we call ‘county groups’ (or Census Bureau PUMAs), to allow for more standardized comparisons between areas than counties in California allow. Especially since population sizes within counties can range from hundreds to millions of people, comparing well-being by county would be akin to comparing apples to oranges (or grapes to watermelons, in the case of California). County groups, on the other hand, have a defined range between 100,000 – 400,000 people, and allow for better data comparability. They also map directly onto or within county lines.

We expected to find large disparities, but were taken aback by the size of the gaps. Within California, some groups experience the highest levels of well-being and access to opportunity in the nation—indeed, in the world—while others are facing distressing challenges when it comes to the basic building blocks of opportunity. For instance:

• People in the section of Orange County that runs from Newport Beach to Laguna Hills have a life expectancy just shy of 89 years—fifteen more years than people living in Southeast Los Angeles (73.4 years).

• In some parts of LA County, nearly all adults (97% and higher) have completed high school, whereas in other parts, fewer than half of all adults have done so.

• Median personal earnings range from $14,700 to $19,000 in parts of Los Angeles, Kern, Tulare, and Fresno counties, compared to nearly $64,000 in the Contra Cosa-San Ramon area and nearly $75,000 in the Santa Clara-Los Gatos area.

• Statewide, men have median personal earnings of $36,051, whereas women bring home significantly less: $25,854.

While we are aware of some clear challenges to the state of California, such as unemployment, housing, budgeting and governance, we welcome your feedback and suggestions on other topics to look into for this report. Email us your suggestions to by the end of October!

The California report will be released in early 2011.


The California state report is supported by the generosity of our donors:

California Community Foundation
Conrad N. Hilton Foundation
Draper Foundation
The California Endowment
The Lincy Foundation
The San Francisco Foundation
United Way of California
Weingart Foundation