About a quarter- century ago, I wrote a book about California's social, economic, demographic and political evolution and quoted a couple of academics who predicted "the possible emerging of a two-tier economy."
Today, we can eliminate the word "possible." It's a proven fact.
A Census Bureau poverty report and another from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, released simultaneously last week, should remove any lingering doubt about California's stratification.
The Census Bureau is experimenting with a new way of gauging poverty, one that uses more measures of income and outgo and the cost of living. And by that standard, California has by a wide margin the highest level of poverty of any state, with nearly a quarter of its 38 million residents in that category.
Meanwhile, the CBPP calculated, state by state, gaps in various family income brackets and found that California has the third largest "income inequality" between those in the highest and lowest levels, and the second largest between those in the highest and middle quintiles.
To say it plainly, California's rich are richer and its poor are poorer, in relative terms, than almost anywhere else in the nation. And that stratification also has, as those two academics predicted a quarter-century ago, an ethnic element. They saw a mostly white and Asian overclass and a mostly black and Latino underclass and a shrinking middle class.
The decline of a once-vigorous industrial economy wiped out countless well-paying, middle-class jobs. The emergence of a post-industrial economy rooted in trade, services and technology marginalized those without the specific talents and training the new economy demanded.
Public policy did not adjust to the new economic reality, nor to the rapid ethnic diversification of the population.
Public education failed to adjust in part because school finance shifted from local hands to state bureaucrats and became politically polarized. The very wide disparities in educational outcomes between white and Asian students on one end and black and Latino kids on the other attest to that failure.
This socioeconomic evolution paralleled another evolution, from a conservative red state to a liberal blue state.
The state's Democrats champion egalitarianism and mobility and say they want to spend more in that direction. But with new tax increases, the state already has one of the nation's highest state and local tax burdens.
Welcome to reality.