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WLRN has partnered with PolitiFact to fact-check Florida politicians. The Pulitzer Prize-winning team seeks to present the true facts, unaffected by agenda or biases.

PolitiFact FL: The Ron DeSantis and Gavin Newsom economies, in 8 charts

Single home units during construction in Los Angeles.
Damian Dovarganes
Single-home units go up in Los Angeles on Oct. 19, 2023. Housing markets may be a discussion topic during the Nov. 30 debate between California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

WLRN has partnered with PolitiFact to fact-check Florida politicians. The Pulitzer Prize-winning team seeks to present the true facts, unaffected by agenda or biases.

As California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis prepare to debate on Fox News, many factors separate their two states, including their ideological leanings and their voting patterns.

The Nov. 30 debate between Newsom, a Democrat, and DeSantis, a Republican, is being billed as a blue state versus red state battle in an era of partisan polarization.

A big comparison — and a topic that will likely arise during the debate — is the economic performance of California, the nation’s most populous state, and Florida, the third most populous.

We looked at key economic comparisons between the two states. Florida has performed better on some important economic statistics, such as employment and gross domestic product. California fares better on wages, income and poverty.

Here’s a closer look.


DeSantis likes to tout how his actions during the coronavirus pandemic — such as opening the state to economic activity despite the health risk — positioned his state for a quick rebound from the pandemic recession.

Florida was in the top one-third of states for COVID-19 death rates with 112 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

California — which took a more cautious approach to reopening during the pandemic and ranked around the midpoint among states in COVID-19 death rates — has largely tracked the U.S. as a whole in its jobs comeback. But Florida has fared significantly better.

Today, California has 4.8% more jobs than it did in January 2019, the month Newsom and DeSantis took office. But Florida has 10.6% more jobs than in January 2019.

"Keeping businesses open and allowing people to work was certainly helpful (to Florida)," said Randall G. Holcombe, a Florida State University economist.

Florida’s unemployment rate has also been lower than the national rate since January 2019; California’s has been higher.

Florida also performed better in gross domestic product — the sum total of all economic activity within the state. Adjusted for inflation, both states’ GDPs rose faster than the national GDP, but Florida outpaced California. Florida’s GDP is now 14.2% higher than its January 2019 level, compared with 8.8% higher for California.


DeSantis often touts the population flow into Florida from other states as a major plus. And he often knocks California — for decades the nation’s fastest-growing state for population — for not keeping pace.

Although California remains the more populous state, its share of the nation’s population has stagnated for more than two decades, while Florida’s has risen.


A big reason for Florida’s recent growth spurt has been its relatively low housing costs. Florida’s housing prices are fairly similar to the national average, but they are well below those in California. This does not include insurance costs,which are rising everywhere but particularly in Florida, given climate threats and losses from hurricanes.

Wages and income

A notable economic shortcoming for Florida involves wages and income.

Average hourly earnings for private-sector workers in Florida are 6.2% below the national average. The same measure for California is 13.1% higher than the national average.

It’s true even after adjusting for Florida’s lower tax burden; the state’s per capita disposable income — its after-tax income per resident — trails the U.S., while California’s is in the top quarter of states.

A caveat is that the higher cost of living in California, including those high housing prices, eats into those wage-and-income advantages.

Poverty is less common in California.

For 2022, California had a 12.2% poverty rate, and 15% for children up to age 18. Both figures were higher in Florida: 12.7% overall and 16.8% for children.

Finally, California retains an edge in high-paying "knowledge industry" sectors, including Silicon Valley and Hollywood.

As The New York Times has reported, California leads Florida in the share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree (37% to 34.3%), the number of universities ranked in the top 50 for research and development funding (7 to 1). and patents issued per 10,000 residents (12.8 to 2.6).

Florida fared as well or better than California on math test scores for fourth graders and eighth graders, the Times reported.

Our Sources

Louis Jacobson has been with PolitiFact since 2009, currently as senior correspondent.
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