Decades after LA Riots, unemployment and poverty persist in South LA

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94351 full

The communities most affected by the L.A. Riots have seen little, if any, economic growth during the past two-and-a-half decades, according to a UCLA study released Thursday. It found that, in some neighborhoods, unemployment and poverty have worsened despite efforts by community leaders to boost economic development.

For the study, UCLA researchers spent 25 years gathering unemployment and poverty data on six L.A. neighborhoods — Koreatown, Westlake and four quadrants of South L.A. — to analyze how economic revitalization efforts have helped or hurt the communities.

The team, led by Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA, examined the demographic and economic data and compared it to greater L.A. County’s unemployment and poverty rates:

The unemployment rate for six neighborhoods that suffered heavy damage during the '92 Riots remains higher than the rest of L.A. County.
The unemployment rate for six neighborhoods that suffered heavy damage during the '92 Riots remains higher than the rest of L.A. County. UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs
The poverty rate for six neighborhoods that suffered heavy damage during the '92 Riots remains higher than the rest of L.A. County.
The poverty rate for six neighborhoods that suffered heavy damage during the '92 Riots remains higher than the rest of L.A. County. UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs

The data doesn’t paint a complete picture of all engagement, organization and mobilization strategies within the neighborhoods since 1992, according to the study. Instead, it shows trends that point to challenges that have always put the six communities in the study behind the rest of the county, even before the riots took place, Ong told KPCC.

Ong wrote in the study:

"Improving the lives of those in the most affected areas has been elusive in the face of growing income and wealth inequality, and gentrification-driven displacement. The research in this brief and others conducted at UCLA show a critical need to renew a commitment to bending the trajectory of economic development towards justice, to embrace inclusive people and place strategies."

Ong said the best chance for improvement is if everyone in the community is able to make a contribution.

“People who are in the neighborhood — the residents, small business owners, the churches — they ought to be part of the process in defining what we ought to be doing and how we prioritize the use of our resources,” he said.

The UCLA study also called for action to improve the socioeconomic status of the six neighborhoods:

  • A renewed commitment to revitalizing the affected areas
  • Renewed stakeholder efforts to address development challenges
  • People and place strategies that are inclusive, driven by local residents, leaders, businesses and organizations

Before 1992, the six neighborhoods in UCLA’s study consisted of some of the most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in all of L.A., the study said. Frustration within the neighborhoods toward public institutions that left them behind allowed people living there to reach their highest boiling point during the '92 Riots. 

Some eastern parts of South L.A. have seen drops in unemployment since 1990, according to the study — but not by much, Ong said. Parts of South L.A. have a poverty rate close to 45 percent, he said, which is more than double L.A. County’s poverty level as a whole.

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