For all its beautiful weather, celebrities and culture, Los Angeles County is a sprawling urban center made largely of two kinds of people: The Haves and the Have-nots.
At least that’s the conclusion the United Way of Greater Los Angeles came to according to it’s report, L.A. County 10 Years Later: A Tale of Two Cities, One Future, released February 9. The report compares the social and economic climate in Los Angeles County from 1999 to 2009.
With 250,000 millionaires and 1.4 million poor or 15 percent of the population, the report finds that the gap between the rich and poor is widening. While results were largely unchanged between 1999 and 2009, the findings underscore the erosion of the middle class in the community, which is in danger of falling further behind the country without action on key issues.
Report Highlights Include:
*Working poor in L.A. County is 7.5 percent greater than nation as a whole.
*The graduation rate has remained at 60 percent over the last decade, well below the national average of 70 percent.
*Obesity is on the rise at all income levels but grew twice as fast for poor adults, increasing by 9.2 percent compared to a 4 percent increase for high income adults.
*The decade saw an increase in the number of residents paying 30 percent or more of their income on rent.
Although the report finds that Los Angeles continues to be a city largely made up of working poor, it does report signs of improvement in key areas such as education. Other areas of improvement include:
*On average, test scores are up for all grades and participation in math classes are on the rise in younger grades.
*Children had greater access to health coverage since 1999.
*Violent crime has declined by over 30 percent in last decade.
*Studies (like United Way’s Homeless Cost Study) show costs to provide permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless are 40 percent lower than the costs associated with living on the streets or in emergency shelters.
“It’s been ten years since we coined the term ’working poor’ and it’s clear that Los Angeles County’s economic and social sustainability is severely threatened,” said Elise Buik, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Los Angeles. “We need to invest in our human capital in order to meet the growing economic and social demands we’re facing now.”
The overall purpose of the report is to provides businesses, communities and education leaders with a tool for measuring how Los Angeles County is faring within four key areas that contribute to the economic and social well-being of the city: employment and income; homelessness and housing; health and education. This is why the report was released during a working session of more than 300 civic and business leaders in L.A. County to draw attention, shift policy and make change.
Buick said investing in key areas can bring the most progress: jobs, education and housing.
“If we all pay attention to what is happening in our city and work towards shifting policy, it will help Los Angeles reinvent itself and make change and progress,” she said.
The report also shows that problems once thought confined to the poor, such as excessive rent burdens, falling wages and uncertain healthcare coverage, are seeping up the income distribution, said Manuel Pastor, professor of Geography and American Studies and Ethnicity, University of Southern California.
“It is of utmost importance to shore up the bottom in order to grow the middle class in Los Angeles,” Pastor said, “We can’t leave people behind, or we’ll continue to come up short in both our human capital and social consensus, both important to the County’s prosperity.”
The Tale of Two Cities Report incorporates goals and recommendations made within United Way’s 10-year Action Plan, launched in 2007, which addresses issues facing Los Angeles County and provides the tools necessary to move more people out of poverty.
For the full report, visit www.unitedwayla.org
Santa Monica Mirrorstaff@smmirror.com