Even before the economic disruptions caused by COVID-19, far too many Californians were living in poverty. Despite solid economic growth, pockets of vast wealth, and a robust social safety net, California still had the nation’s highest poverty rate, while millions more Californians lived on the edge. Now, that dire situation can only be expected to grow worse.

The Cato Project on Poverty and Inequality in California was launched in 2019 to study the root causes of poverty in California and recommend practical solutions designed to help all Californians prosper and rise as far as their individual talents and abilities will take them.

The project draws on decades of Cato’s expertise across a variety of issues, as well as close collaboration with Californians on the front lines of fighting poverty, whether business leaders, elected officials, or local activists. We have found that too often state and local government policies have trapped people in poverty and blocked their participation in the state’s economy. Over the year to come, we will be continuing to look at issues such as:

  • Housing and homelessness
  • Criminal justice reform
  • Educational opportunity
  • Welfare reform
  • Financial inclusion
  • Regressive barriers to economic participation

In the coming months we expect to hold a variety of forums and conferences and to release a number of publications addressing these and other issues. Without shying away from controversy or difficult choices, our hope is to identify reforms that can draw support from across California’s political and ideological spectrum.

We look forward to your continued involvement, ideas, and support. Together, we can make a better future for all Californians. Feel free to share your experience and recommendations with us by email or on Twitter.

Join the conversation on Twitter: #CatoCalifornia



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Michael D. Tanner

Cato Institute Senior Fellow Michael Tanner heads research into a variety of domestic policies, with an emphasis on poverty and social welfare policy, health care, and Social Security and entitlement reform.