California Democrats and Republicans agree that income inequality is a big problem, a new Field Poll finds, but one group is far more satisfied with the state's distribution of wealth: immigrants.
Among Californians born here, 60 percent report dissatisfaction with the wealth gap and 66 percent feel it's greater now than in the past. Among immigrants, however, only 40 percent are dissatisfied, while only 40 percent feel the gap is now wider.
And in a twist that offers surprising insight into the nature of an increasingly diverse state, immigrants are much more likely than those born here -- 43 percent, compared with 30 percent -- to say government should do "a lot" more to reduce the gap between wealthy Californians and everybody else.
Mark DiCamillo, the Field Poll's director, said the results were "unexpected" but, after reflection, make perfect sense.
Californians born in this country might see economic disparity as a bigger problem, yet are likelier to lean conservative and be "fearful of government intervention in the private sector," he said. Immigrants, meanwhile, come here largely from nations in Latin America and Asia, "many of which have even greater disparities in income" and are more likely to be "activist in their views of government."
The poll isn't surprising to Atiya Yasin, a Palestinian who in April opened Ayola, a Greek and Mediterranean restaurant in San Jose.
"In America there are many more and better opportunities for me and for all immigrants coming from other countries to start and have a better life," he said. "In my country, and so many others, there are not many ways to grow and expand and have a better life for your family. Here, we can work hard and make success on our own."
Yasin, 35, who also has two restaurants in San Francisco and recently became a father, said he has worked hard for his success and has never needed government aid. "But I'm sure there are some people needing help to get started, to get a job or to get assistance until they can stand on their own feet. In that way the government should help, but people should not take advantage because the government is only helping them to help themselves."
Overall, the poll of 1,402 California adults conducted June 5-22 found that 54 percent are dissatisfied with how income and wealth are distributed in the state, while 38 percent are satisfied and 8 percent had no opinion. Majorities of both liberals and conservatives felt this way; in fact, almost all age, income and gender groups reported dissatisfaction.
Jack Pitney, a former Republican strategist who's now a Claremont McKenna College professor, isn't surprised equal proportions of Republicans and Democrats see disparity as a problem. "Inequality just stares you in the face wherever you go -- it defines California life on a variety of levels," he said.
Nor is it surprising that the wealthiest Californians are likelier to be dissatisfied with the gap than the poorest, he said: "People at the top of the spectrum are the people who read books about inequality " and there may be an element of guilt."
Among Latinos, a majority of those born here said they're dissatisfied, while immigrants are more likely to be satisfied.
Yet Californians are divided when asked how much government should be doing to try to reduce the wealth gap. About one in three feel that government should be doing a lot, another third say it should have some role, and a quarter say it shouldn't play much of a role. Pluralities of Democrats and liberals think government should be doing a lot, while 45 percent of Republicans and 53 percent of strong conservatives think it shouldn't.
Asked specifically about the state's minimum wage laws, 48 percent said the minimum wage should be boosted further than the current law calls for.
The state's wage floor rose from $8 to $9 per an hour on Tuesday and will increase again to $10 per an hour in January 2016. But 37 percent said these increases are enough, and 10 percent said the minimum wage already has been raised too much.
Jennifer Lucas, a 47-year-old U.S.-born actress from Oakland, said she believes the wealth gap has grown too big and "government has an obligation to manage the situation" because those who hold most of the nation's wealth won't do it on their own.
Raising the minimum wage is "one of the few tools that we have to balance that playing field," said Lucas, a Democrat.
Berkeley resident Renee Tissue, 80, said older, native-born Americans like her remember that the American middle class "always had a chance to get ahead" -- a memory that immigrants from less affluent nations might not share -- until a few decades ago, when the U.S. wealth gap began widening faster.
Now retired from a career in psychology research, Tissue told the Field Poll she's very dissatisfied with today's disparity and believes the government should do a lot more to help close it.
"From my own family," Tissue said, "I see they don't have the same opportunity to get ahead that my generation did."