New Study Documents Lack of Economic Progress in South L.A. Over the Past 50 Years Researchers at UCLA Luskin’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge list inequities in wages, housing, education and transportation

In the half-century since the Kerner Commission’s report on urban unrest, South Los Angeles has experienced little economic progress, according to a new study by the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, part of UCLA Luskin.

In 1960, South L.A. workers made 80 cents on the dollar compared to the average Los Angeles County worker. In the last 50 years, that gap has widened. Today, the average full-time, full-year worker in South L.A. earns about 60 cents on every dollar earned by the average county resident.

“This report is a sobering snapshot of the inequalities that have persisted in South Los Angeles 50 years since the 1968 report,” said Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge.  Disparities in earnings are the main driver of income inequality. Earnings are critical in overall quality of life — low earnings can translate into less access to necessities, amenities, and opportunities.

Earnings in South L.A. have failed to catch up to county levels, according to the researchers. That widening pay gap is driven in part by a steady decline of male wages.

South Los Angeles is home to 722,000 persons, and epitomizes the plight of inner-city neighborhoods. It is the site where frustrations of a marginalized and neglected community boiled over in 1965 Watts riots and 1992 civil unrest. These reactions to the lack of progress should not have been unexpected given the realities documented by this CNK report.

In addition to earnings, the study also documents inequities in:


Homeownership, the principal mechanism for wealth accumulation for middle-class residents, is lower in South L.A. than the county and has declined over time. Today, fewer than one in three South L.A. residents own their home.

The high demand for housing has translated not only to higher cost but also higher home values. After adjusting for inflation, the average home is priced at nearly three times as much today as it was in 1960. This places financial strain on new buyers and puts ownership further out of reach for renters.


Car ownership is critical in Los Angeles where, despite large investments in public transit, lacking a car can severely limit one’s access to job and educational opportunities. Availability of cars within households has improved over time; nonetheless, households in South LA are twice as likely to lack a car, according to the study. South LA residents remain three times as likely to rely on public transit for commuting.


Educational attainment is critical in preparing children to be successful and productive adults. However, public schools have continued to be “separate and unequal.” Elementary school performance on standardized testing reveals persistent gaps between South LA and the most affluent neighborhoods in West L.A.

Early childhood preparation can be critical toward the goal of fostering successful students. Fifty years ago, recommendations concerning education specifically prioritized the expansion of preschool programs. In 1960, preschool enrollment was virtually non-existent in both South L.A. and the county.

In 1990, children in South L.A. were only half as likely as county children to be enrolled in a private preschool. This can be taken as an indicator of the wide gaps in the availability of resources for education to residents in South L.A. compared to the county. This gap has grown since then. In 2016, county children are four times as likely as South L.A. children to be enrolled in a private preschool.

View the full report.

Technical note

There are no definitive boundaries for South Los Angeles. Over time, the boundaries have shifted as the neighborhood has changed. This study is based on public use microdata areas (PUMAs), which are defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. These are reasonable approximations of the curfew area for the 1965 Watts Riot, the post-1992 Civil Unrest Rebuild L.A. zone, and the Los Angeles Times Neighborhood Mapping Project’s South Los Angeles area.

All data, with the exception of school performance, come from PUMS samples. The 1960 data are extracted from IPUMS. Additional data come from tract-level statistics reported by the U.S. Census Bureau. Data on elementary school performance combine assessment scores from California’s Standardized Testing and Reporting with historical information of schools, reported in the 1965 McCone Report.

This project was supported by the following partners: the Haynes Foundation, the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, the UCLA Lewis Center, the UCLA Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, the UCLA Luskin Center for History and Policy, the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Professor Manisha Shah, and the UCLA Asian American Studies Center.

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