The Politics of Prosperity

610 200 Lucia Navarro and Victor Abalos

Orginally published on the Southern California Latino Policy Center Blog.

The Polanco family living the American Dream in Hollister, CA

The lack of representation at all levels of government is one of the greatest threats to Latino prosperity in California.

While the state’s Latino population continues to grow, the number of Latino elected officials in local, state and federal offices has not kept pace creating a “representation gap” that has become a significant obstacle for Latino families to achieve the middle-class American Dream.

These are some of the conclusions from a recent report by the California Latino Legislative Caucus and the Leadership California Institute regarding poverty and political representation of Latinos. The report’s bottom line: Although more and more Latinos are getting elected at the local level, they are not yet reflecting the number of Latinos who reside throughout the state and, perhaps more significantly, not enough of them are reaching positions of influence in more powerful statewide and congressional offices.

The report cites a connection between political representation and Latino voter population. According to a study made in 2015 by the Public Policy Institute in California: “Whites make up only 43 percent of California’s adult population but 60 percent of the state’s likely voters. In contrast, Latinos comprise 34 percent of the adult population but just 18 percent of likely voters”.

4VD_9088The study reports that from 1980 to 2010 the Latino population in California increased by 200%.

But it emphasizes, “this significant boost in population has seen very little translation to civic engagement or elected representation. While Latinos have seen progress in both the level of representation and their capacity to secure leadership positions, Latinos still lag significantly in representation at all levels of California government, especially the local level.”

While both the current Senate President and the new Assembly Speaker are Latinos – a historic first – the total number of Latinos elected to the state legislature since 2000 is only 63. Only 20 have been elected to the state senate. Currently out of the 120 members in the California Legislatures only 23 are Latino.

Mike Madrid, an expert on Latino voting trends and one of the study’s authors, says, “the heart of the problem is that those who represent us have not done enough to create policies to benefit Latinos or to increase the number of middle class Latinos.”

According to Madrid, those who represent Latinos in the California Legislature and even at federal level, “are not engaged with what Latinos need but with their own interests. They need to take more concrete actions to promote education, reduce school dropouts with the vision of reducing the poverty rate in the state.”

A foreclosed home is shown in Stockton, California May 13, 2008. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

Latino families have endured considerable economic challenges recently. First, the collapse of the housing market starting in 2007 shut down the dream of home ownership for thousands. Home ownership has always been a critical entry to the middle-class. And there is mounting evidence Latinos have not benefitted from the state’s economic recovery. Latinos are disproportionately represented in under and unemployment statistics.

And this isn’t just a Latino issue. Many, including the founders of this organization, strongly believe Latino entry into the middle class is critical to this state’s economic vitality.

Survey highlights include:

Percentage of Elected Offices Held by Latinos in California:

  • US Senate: 0
  • Congressional: 18.9 percent
  • State Constitutional Office: 12.5 percent
  • State Senate: 12.5 percent
  • State Assembly: 23.8 percent
  • County Supervisors: 10.1 percent
  • City Council: 14.7 percent
  • School Board: 13.5 percent

View Survey Highlights Infographic

Download the Survey Report

lucia-navarro-headshotLucia Navarro is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering Latino issues in the U.S. as well as political and social issues in Latin American. She is a former network news anchor and served as Managing Editor/Anchor for KVEA-52 Telemundo in Los Angeles from 2001-07. She was born in Monterrey, Mexico and is based in Atlanta.


Lucia Navarro and Victor Abalos

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