California, and indeed the country, faces an unusual opportunity, and challenge, to respond to the large number of low-income families whose heads work — and may continue to work — in low-wage jobs that provide little opportunity for wage advancement, increased income, and movement out of poverty or near-poverty. The opportunity grows out of the serious and growing commitment of policymakers, administrators, and practitioners to support low-income working adults and their families, both in their current jobs and in efforts to assist those who can to advance in the labor market.
In California, where a quarter of the children live in poverty, this commitment has particular salience. The challenge comes in two areas: from the lack of knowledge, in some instances, about effective services to support low-income people and to help promote skill and wage advancement; and from the absence of an institutional structure with the vision and responsibility for responding effectively to the needs of low-income workers. The paper first discusses the context of rapid, simultaneous change in the labor market and public systems, particularly over the past five years, and the major issues they pose for public policy. It then suggests one potential course of action in relationship to the institutional structure.