California’s high cost of living is hitting rural regions, where incomes have not kept pace, according to experts presenting at a recent Assembly informational hearing on economic development.

The average incomes in Tehama County, for example, are around $40,000, in line with Mississippi, explained Bruce Pickering, a vice president at the Asia Society. Alameda County, however, stands at $90,000. More than a third of Californians are considered struggling or disenfranchised, with the overwhelming majority in the interior.

To tackle this issue, four UC campuses partnered with CDFA and the society, as well as other nonprofits, to examine policies in Japan that have arrested decline and encouraged growth. With an aging rural workforce, Japan’s use of machines to upskill workers is the most likely approach to bring success to California.

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“The idea is not to replace workers so much as to make them more productive and—not to be underestimated—to make them happier in their jobs,” said Pickering.

But Japan has better healthcare, internet and infrastructure, and California lacks Japan’s political will and public support. The coalition will glean insights from Denmark and Israel next.