California’s economic performance is impressive on many counts. If it were a country, it would be the fifth-largest economy in the world, and the state’s engines of innovation and productivity have long drawn entrepreneurial interest and labor talent from other states and countries. California also plays an outsized role in shaping our nation’s trade relationships, agricultural output, and tourism.

Recently in the Inland Empire (IE), growing employment in health care, social assistance, and education has provided many middle-class jobs for workers and has extended vital services to the public. However, low wages, possible layoffs, and erosion of employment benefits leave many public-sector workers feeling insecure. The global COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these challenges. Educational attainment is also relatively low, limiting workers’ ability to pursue higher-paying professional jobs. There also appears to be a substantial mismatch between job opportunities and affordable housing in Southern California. Shortages of good-paying job opportunities in Riverside and San Bernardino, along with the lack of affordable housing in neighboring coastal counties, means that 342,000 IE residents are employed outside the region (State of Work in the Inland Empire).

Various local and regional initiatives show significant promise in improving wages and benefits and promoting economic mobility. Deeper collaborations between public agencies, businesses, community groups, and labor organizations are necessary to increase public and private-sector investments that attract more highly skilled jobs, increase access to middle-skill jobs, and improve the quality of all jobs in the region.