For years, economists, business leaders and policymakers warned that the decline in blue-collar manufacturing jobs in California would leave us with a shrinking middle class, limited economic mobility and a plethora of social ills traditionally equated with systemic poverty.

A recent report by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation demonstrates that those warnings have become a reality.

Since 2007, the loss of our manufacturing base has cost Los Angeles nearly 89,000 good-paying middle-class jobs. Those jobs have been replaced with service-sector jobs that pay less than half of the jobs they replaced. At the same time, Los Angeles County has seen poverty rates climb, the middle class shrink, housing affordability grow beyond the grasp of working people, and homelessness hit crisis proportions. Our “middle class” is slipping away into a world of haves and have-nots.

Even more troubling is the clear racial and ethnic components of the growing class divide. As we become more racially diverse, we are also becoming more segregated by class. Latinos have emerged as the largest ethnic group in California at precisely the same time the door to the middle class is slamming shut.

In California, Latinos have higher rates of poverty and unemployment than do whites. Latinos also have comparatively less household wealth, lower homeownership rates and lower graduation rates, and face bleaker job prospects as manufacturing jobs continue to vanish.

California needs an aggressive policy agenda to restore and grow the middle class — not because it will help Latinos but because our state is uniquely suited to develop a model for economic growth that truly lifts everyone and creates a pathway to a sustainable, growing middle class in California.

After all, we are the state that brought the world Google, Facebook, Apple and countless other technology companies in Silicon Valley. We are innovators and risk takers. Surely we can figure out how to grow our economy and embrace innovation, all while protecting and growing our middle class.

This agenda must include a commitment to bring more housing on-line at every price level, significant investments in infrastructure, increased access to capital for small and medium-sized business, tax reform, and an honest evaluation of the regulatory schemes that are encouraging the exodus of blue-collar jobs that are already threatened by global economic forces.

Recently, I was appointed to serve on the California Latino Economic Institute, an independent organization focused on researching ways to address challenges and opportunities for growing our declining middle class. My hope is that the institute can pinpoint solutions to overcome this alarming decline and craft state policy to bring back — and create — good-paying jobs for working families.

I was also named chairman of the Califronia Assembly’s Select Committee on Growing Jobs in the San Fernando Valley. When I ran for office, constituents voiced to me a need for more good-paying jobs, and I believe the Legislature is well-suited to bring stakeholders together to develop a roadmap to regional economic success.

Much of the disruption in our regional economy is a function of global conditions outside of our control. But globalization isn’t alone to blame.

With so many economic indicators having hit crisis proportions, it should serve as a sobering wakeup call to policymakers that something is amiss. Far too many Californians are being left behind, and that is evident in nearly every part of the Los Angeles region.

Policymakers at the state and local levels must immediately prioritize and address the situation as it is: a grave threat to our social stability.

Originally posted in the Los Angeles Daily News