Agustiniano [a 35-year-old home improvement store worker] and his wife are stakeholders in today’s South Los Angeles and are emblematic of a major trend in the area: a substantial demographic shift. In 1990, Latinos and African Americans each comprised 47% of the area’s population; today Latinos outnumber blacks 2 to 1.
But that ethnic transformation is one of the few dramatic changes in an area that for decades has known one constant: poverty. According to a newly released report by UCLA’s School of Public Affairs, almost one-third of the area’s residents have been living below the poverty line since 1990.
The UCLA report points out that the area is a place of stark contrasts, with solid middle- and upper-class pockets—View Park and Baldwin Hills—on the west and communities that lag behind nearly every measure of prosperity farther east. It’s most often defined as an area of immense need.
UCLA researchers returned to the area this year to gather data for the new report, titled “The State of South L.A..” The study sought to define 60 square miles—bounded by the 10 Freeway, La Cienega Boulevard, the 105 Freeway and Alameda Street—with about 885,000 people, close to 10% of the county’s population. Among the researchers’ findings:
* In 1990, 47% of South L.A. residents were Latino and another 47% were African American. By 2006, the mix had changed to 62% Latino and 31% black, 3% white, 2% Asian/ Pacific Islander and 2% other. About 40% of the people living in South L.A. are foreign-born.
* About 30% of South L.A.’s residents live in poverty, about the same proportion as in 1990 and about twice the rate recorded in the county overall.
* In South L.A., fewer residents have skills, high school diplomas and college degrees than in other parts of the county. Unemployment is higher and workers earn less.
* In the poorer sections of South L.A., there are fewer homeowners than the county average and there’s a slightly higher default and foreclosure rate. (Foreclosures are much higher in the Antelope Valley.)
* Although property crime rates in South L.A. (27 offenses per 1,000) were roughly equal to the county rate, violent crime was twice as high. More than one-third of the victims of violent crimes were 18 to 29; 16% were under 18.
Over the years, a negative perception of the area has been fueled by its reputation for occasional unrest, urban decline, crime, unemployment and welfare dependency.
In 2003, city officials sought to lesson the negative impact by changing the name of South-Central Los Angeles, but that alteration may have contributed to a loss of a historical identity, the 2008 report suggests.
More harmful has been the persistent lack of resources, such as neighborhood jobs.
“There is a strong recognition that there is a market in South Los Angeles, just like in downtown Los Angeles,” [Denise Fairchild, chairwoman of the community development department at Los Angeles Trade-Tech College,] said. “Upper-income people are moving into neighborhoods that were blighted by gang infestation. The urban pioneers are out in force.”
“We need more services for Latinos,” [Arturo Ybarra, executive director of the Watts/Century Latino Organization,] said. “We have families who go to African American community-based organizations for help and they do their best, but we need to create greater infrastructure for services for the Latino community,” especially in terms of immigration issues.
At UCLA, Gilliam said the job of lifting up South L.A. may fall on many shoulders. UCLA, for example, is one of several partners assisting the Los Angeles Urban League to revitalize a 70-square-block area anchored by Crenshaw High School.