Quality of life scores run along racial lines in California

The real Newport Beach as seen from the water.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Latinos in Los Angeles County earn half as much as whites, with a median income of $21,314, compared with $44,929. An Asian American baby born in the L.A. area today can expect to live 11.3 years longer than an African American baby. Asian Americans score the highest quality of life index at 7.29 out of 10, while Latinos score the lowest at 4.11 out of 10.

These are among the findings from a new study by the nonprofit Social Sciences Research Council, which examines racial and geographic disparities in well-being across California. Researchers combined data on educational attainment, salary and life expectancy to create scores measuring the quality of life in each neighborhood in the state. The gap between the lowest and highest scores was the widest in a research area that includes Los Angeles and Orange counties, researchers say.

Six out of the 10 lowest-scoring neighborhoods were in L.A. Watts got the lowest score overall. The highest-scoring neighborhood in the region was the Newport Beach area.


The data used in the study weren’t new, researchers say. But aggregating the data in an index showed that a person’s race or ethnicity was “tremendously influential” in predicting their quality of life, said researcher Kristen Lewis.

It’s not clear why race and ethnicity accounted for so much of the disparity in quality of life, Lewis said, but part of the reason could be residential segregation. People of the same races tend to live in the same areas and often have the same levels of health, education and income. Racial disparities in the quality of life scores also mirror geographic disparities, Lewis said.

“Overall, over everything, race and ethnicity was the major factor,” Lewis said.

The study was patterned after the United Nations Human Development Index, which aims to be an alternative measure of economic growth that focuses on improving human lives. The index was inspired by the ideas of Indian economist and philosopher Amartya Sen, who felt that economists focused too much on tracking the growth of gross domestic product, or GDP, and often ignored data that tracked human suffering.

“We need to supplement our financial and economic metrics with facts about the lives of ordinary people,” said Sarah Burd-Sharps, the report’s co-author.