Skip to content

Re:Work Institute for Worker Justice

Orange County on the Cusp of Change

By: Saba Waheed, Hugo Romero, Carolina Sarmiento

Once a rural, agricultural region, Orange County has become a vibrant, diverse metropolitan area. Though Orange County has been changing demographically and politically for the past four decades, its common reputation continues to be one of conservatism, right wing activism, homogeneity and affluence. Although it was once the land of Richard Nixon, the John Birch Society, and per Ronald Reagan, “the place where all good Republicans go to die,” the reality is that Orange County is increasingly more heterogeneous and politically diverse. Yet a dominant narrative of wealth and affluence in the county obscures the existing inequality, which varies from city to city and leads to economic and social disparities among residents.

This report aims to understand the key challenges residents of today’s Orange County face. The research is primarily comprised of secondary data including academic research, policy reports, indicator studies, newspaper articles, and government and voting data. In addition, the research process included community forums where community leaders helped shape the analysis of the data.

The following are key findings based on the research:

  • Job growth in low-wage industries will increase economic disparity.
  • High cost of living and economic inequality spread across the county.
  • Environmental issues impact low-income neighborhoods and communities of color more acutely.
  • People of color are the new majority in Orange County, but disproportionately face issues such as poverty, language isolation, and educational attainment challenges.
  • Orange County is seeing dramatic political changes, but political systems pose barriers to participation for low-income and communities of color.