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New poll shows that Black and Latino Californians were hit hardest by high gas prices

A man fills a van from a gas pump.
Richard Castro fills the tank of his work van at a Westchester gas station in May.
(Al Seib / For The Times)

The recent spike in gasoline prices took the greatest financial toll on Black and Latino Californians, though more than half of all adults in the state reported suffering at least moderate economic hardship, according to a new poll by the Public Policy Institute of California.

Californians living in the Inland Empire and Central Valley, where distant commutes or long drives for work and daily chores are commonplace, also felt a far greater pinch due to steep prices at the pump compared with those living in the state’s densely populated urban landscapes, especially the San Francisco Bay Area.

State Republicans have used high gas prices, which have been on the decline since peaking in the late spring and early summer, to attack Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Legislature’s Democratic leadership for refusing to temporarily suspend the state’s highest-in-the-nation gas tax.

But neither Newsom nor Democratic lawmakers appear to have suffered politically due to the high gas prices or other economic turbulence around the nation, the poll showed.

Supply shortages have sent used-car prices soaring. And that’s made repos more lucrative, with borrowers having cars seized days after missing a payment.

The survey found that nearly 60% of adults in the state approved of the way Newsom has handled the issue of jobs and the economy, while just under 40% disapproved.

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The California Legislature, where Democrats hold supermajorities in both the Senate and Assembly, received similar marks: 55% of adults approved of their actions while 42% disapproved.

Mark Baldassare, the institute’s president and chief executive, called those approval numbers “incredible” given that the poll also showed that 70% of adults in the state felt that bad times were ahead for the California economy in the next 12 months. Baldassare said the brunt of voter anger over the rise in inflation and other economic concerns has been more focused on President Biden and Congress.

“On inflation, people are not only feeling it but they’re upset,” Baldassare said. “People are feeling that things are just out of control ... and expect government to have a handle on that so that they don’t have to worry about it.”

Perhaps helping Newsom and other Democrat leaders at the Capitol was a spending plan the governor signed in June that will provide payments to 17.5 million California taxpayers to lessen the impact of high fuel prices and the cost of living.

The plan provides payments on a sliding scale based on income. The lowest income bracket is eligible for $350 per tax filer and another $350 for those who claim at least one dependent. Respective payments drop to $250 for the middle-income level and $200 for the highest.

Inflation is forcing retirees back into the workforce to make ends meet.

Gas prices have been one of the major drivers of rising inflation nationwide, and the effect has been especially acute in California, which is topped only by Texas when it comes to gasoline consumption.

One in four Latino adults in California said high gas prices caused severe financial hardship, and 49% reported moderate hardship, the poll found. Among Black adults, 23% reported severe financial hardship and 35% moderate. Severe hardship also was felt among 15% of white and 12% of Asian American adults. Moderate hardship was reported by 36% of white and 20% of Asian American adults, according to the poll.

Despite calls by mostly Republican leaders to combat high gasoline prices by expanding oil production, two-thirds of Californians remain opposed to more offshore oil drilling, the poll found.


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