Poverty Gap Growing in L.A., Report Finds : Rise in Low-Paying Jobs Seen Contributing to Wide Difference Between 'Haves,' 'Have-Nots,'

Times Staff Writer

The gap between mostly Anglo "haves" and minority "have-nots" is significantly worsening in Los Angeles despite an economic boom, and without changes in education, government policies and housing affordability, the inequities are likely to further divide the city in coming decades, according to a UCLA report released Monday.

The report by the university's Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning found that the city and county areas are experiencing a major increase in low-paying jobs that mire workers in poverty. The report also concluded that the county's low-wage job sector and its poverty rate are both growing at considerably faster rates than they are in the rest of the United States.

"It used to be that a rising tide lifted all boats, that economic growth meant that everyone, even the poor, benefited by being lifted out of poverty," said Prof. Paul Ong, who oversaw the study. "In this country, that is no longer as true, and in Los Angeles it is particularly not the case."

The study shows that inequities in the form of worsening neighborhood segregation, inferior inner-city education, limited job opportunities and lower pay are causing American-born Latinos and Latino immigrants to fall further and further behind non-Latino white workers in income. At the same time, the study reveals, blacks are stuck at the same low level they held in 1969.

Despite the economic boom that has catapulted Los Angeles into a position as the top manufacturing center in the nation--in terms of total personal income, the county would rank among the world's 15 top nations--"inequality and poverty in Los Angeles are greater today than two decades ago," the researchers wrote.

The researchers concluded gloomily that not even a "complete turnaround" in inner-city education in Los Angeles coupled with an end to racial discrimination in housing and jobs would reverse the dramatic polarization occurring between rich and poor.

The study found that:

- Los Angeles, which has a per-capita income well above the rest of the nation, also has a higher poverty rate. In the United States, 13.5% of all residents live in poverty, while in Los Angeles the level is 15.6%. That is a reversal from 20 years ago, when Los Angeles had a poverty rate significantly below the rest of the country.

- Low-wage occupations that produce $11,000 or less a year now account for 17.5% of all Los Angeles jobs, double the level of 1969. Nationwide, low-wage jobs account for 15.7% of the labor market.

- Wage discrimination forces Latinos further and further down the economic scale. American-born Latino men now earn 78 cents for every dollar earned by an Anglo man with the same educational background and experience. Twenty years ago, American-born Latino men made 90 cents for every dollar earned by a comparable Anglo.

- Women are also doing poorly in Los Angeles, with white women earning 62 cents for every dollar paid to a white man, black women earning 56 cents, American-born Latinas earning 47 cents and Latina immigrants earning just 30 cents.

- Because of the low pay here, 14% of those with full-time jobs live in poverty, compared with only 9% of full-time workers nationwide who live below the poverty line. Again, the scenario for Los Angeles has significantly worsened since 1969, when 8% of full-time workers lived in poverty.

- Skyrocketing rents, which have dramatically outstripped inflation or the cost of operating rental units, now force 75% of families living below the poverty line to pay more than half of their incomes for rent. That financial bite prevents them from moving up the economic ladder. By contrast, less than 5% of the city's middle-class and well-to-do families pay more than half of their incomes for rent.

- Racial isolation is a major factor in poverty, making Los Angeles one of the most segregated cities in the country, both in its neighborhoods and in its schools. According to the study, more than three-quarters of all blacks and more than half of all Latinos would have to move to Anglo areas to achieve full integration.

- The Los Angeles Unified School District--where four out of five students is non-Anglo--produces large numbers of minority students who complete 12th grade but have only eighth- and ninth-grade math and reading skills. As a result, many cannot compete in college or job markets.

Study research indicates that Los Angeles has built its widely hailed economic success "on the backs of Latino immigrants" and other minorities, said Holly Van Houten, one of eight UCLA graduate students who conducted the study by analyzing federal census data, the federal Current Population Surveys and the federal American Housing Survey.

Van Houten said that after taking into account the age, work experience and education of Los Angeles workers, a marked difference exists in pay between whites and minorities "that can only be explained by wage discrimination."

Ong said that wage discrimination, which is greater in Los Angeles than the rest of the country, is caused by many factors. They include undereducation and inflated grades, which have become the norm in Los Angeles' inner-city schools, a lack of job opportunities for racially isolated residents of East Los Angeles and South-Central Los Angeles and racial discrimination by bigoted employers.

"There is a high degree of racial segregation in the county (school system) as a whole, and test scores in predominantly minority schools are very low," Ong said. "In the next decade the minorities will be increasingly undereducated at a time when the work force will require greater and greater levels of education. For us, these trends are very disturbing."

Yvette Galindo, another student researcher, said research also showed that year-round schools, which predominantly serve minority children in Los Angeles, are providing a new route to inferior education. Children at year-round schools have significantly lower test scores than the rest of Los Angeles Unified School District or the state as a whole, she said.

Expensive Housing Market

Moreover, because Los Angeles has among the most expensive housing markets in the country, with average rents now approaching $600 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, researchers said the role that housing has played in poverty here has been chronically underestimated.

"Housing is the greatest single expenditure for poor families," the study said. "More and more renter households in Los Angeles are paying a majority of their income for rent, leaving a shrinking proportion for all other necessary costs. There appears to be no slowing in this trend."

Even with major changes, the gap between rich and poor will not be easily bridged, the study concluded. Paul Schimek, a graduate student who analyzed the county's changing labor patterns for the study, said that "only about half" of the dramatic jump in low-wage jobs could be explained by measurable factors such as the influx of unskilled immigrants or undereducated high school students into the market.

Schimek said he suspects that much of the increase in low-paying jobs is due to the traditionally weak union structure in Los Angeles, and to the major shift away from high-wage manufacturing jobs once offered by steel, rubber and other factories.

He said one outcome might be a renewed unionization effort in Los Angeles, where several unions, particularly those representing hotel workers and janitors, have become politically vocal recently.

Ong, who stopped short of recommending any remedies for the growing inequities, said the goal of the researchers was to alert public-policy makers that deep problems loom ahead unless changes are made.

"It's very difficult for people on the Westside like myself to understand that this is going on," Ong said. "We hope that elected officials, corporation leaders and those in position to make changes will take a look at what we've found."

The study concluded: "Although it is not fashionable to call for increased public intervention in this period, we believe that government can and must play a larger role."

ECONOMIC GAP WIDENS

MEDIAN FAMILY INCOME BY ETHNIC GROUP

Wages for Latino families have taken a dramatic dip in Los Angeles County in the past 20 years while black families have remained stalled near the 1969 level. Only Anglos and Asians have improved their economic lot in the past two decades.

PERCENTAGE OF INCOME SPENT ON RENT

About 75% of families below the poverty line are forced to pay at least half their income for rent, while fewer than 5% of middle-class and well-to-do Los Angeles families pay more than half of their earnings for rent.

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