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Poll finds Californians see wealth gap growing

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POSTED July 2, 2014 6:36 p.m.

SACRAMENTO  (AP) — A majority of Californians are unhappy with income distribution in the state, but they are divided over whether the government should do more to intervene or further raise the minimum wage, according to a Field Poll released Wednesday.

The survey found that 54 percent of California adults said they were dissatisfied with the wage and income gap, compared to 38 percent who said they were satisfied. The view is shared by similar numbers of Democrats and Republicans and across virtually all age, income and gender groups. People who call themselves political independents were more satisfied with income distribution than those who identified with either major party.

Nearly six in 10 adults believe the gap between the wealthy and everyone else is growing.

The findings come amid a national debate about low-wage workers and the widening income gap. In San Francisco, some residents have staged protests over rising rents, driven partly by a surge of wealthy high-tech workers from Silicon Valley.

California’s first increase in the minimum wage in six years also started Tuesday, rising to $9 an hour. It will climb to $10 an hour in 2016.

Nearly half of those surveyed by Field said the minimum wage should be raised even further, while 37 percent said the increases already taking effect are adequate. About one in 10 believes the rate has already been raised too much.

The income gap also is expected to play a role in this year’s race for governor, in which Republican Neel Kashkari has sought to highlight California’s status as having the highest poverty rate in the nation in his challenge of incumbent Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.

Kashkari has called for a massive overhaul of the state’s education system to combat poverty. He said Brown and fellow Democrats in the state Legislature are unwilling to implement major reforms because of their political and financial ties to powerful teachers’ unions.

On Wednesday, Kashkari slammed Brown for previously saying the state has the highest poverty rate because it attracts low-skilled immigrants, saying Brown is “absolving himself of any responsibility to do anything about it.”

A spokesman for the governor, Dan Newman, noted that Brown signed the bill increasing the minimum wage, reformed education funding and expanded health coverage for the poor.

“I don’t want to give him advice, but it does strike me as an odd issue to demagogue for a Republican who supports giving hundreds of billions to Wall St. banks yet believes the working poor should receive a lower minimum wage,” Newman said in an email, referring to Kashkari’s previous role as a U.S. Treasury official who oversaw the federal bank bailout.

Both gubernatorial candidates are wealthy.

Before the June primary, Kashkari pegged his net worth below $5 million. He has since given his campaign more than $2 million. Brown has reported investments valued anywhere from $430,000 to $4.3 million.

In the Field Poll, Californians were sharply divided along partisan lines over how much they believe government should do to try to reduce the wealth gap. About a third said a lot should be done, a third said some should be done and a quarter of respondents said government should not do much to intervene.

Californians who were born in another country, blacks and those with household incomes below $60,000 were among those most likely to believe the government should do more to tackle wealth inequality.

Immigrants reported being more satisfied with the way income is distributed in California than those who were born in the U.S., but 43 percent still said they believe the government should “do a lot” to reduce disparity.

President Barack Obama has proposed raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. But he failed to gain traction in Congress and is now pushing cities and states to raise wages on their own.

New York City, Chicago, San Francisco and Oklahoma City are among those debating increases. The Seattle City Council voted this month to begin raising that city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour starting next year.

The Field Poll interviewed 1,020 adults from June 5-22. The poll has a sampling-error margin of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

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