Concentrated Poverty in Los Angeles

Poverty is a social problem that adversely affects the lives of the residents of Los Angeles and the whole city. According to the National Population Census reports, about 22% of the total households of Los Angeles live below the federal poverty threshold. Areas of concentrated poverty in Los Angeles have more than 40% of households living below the poverty line. Los Angeles has the highest rate of concentrated poverty nationwide. People living in concentrated poverty suffer a number of ills, such as high unemployment rates, crime, exposure to diseases, high school dropouts, and lack of food, healthcare and clothes. The historical trends show that Los Angeles has experienced worsening levels of poverty indices from the 1970s to the present. It is one of the metropolitan American cities that have recorded consistently increasing prevalence of concentrated poverty over the last 4 decades. The scale of concentrated poverty neighbourhoods has increased past the national trends. In the 1970s, less than 2 percent of the households in the city experienced concentrated poverty. A decade later, the scale grew to 4%. In the 2000s, the proportion of people living in poverty had tripled. As the poverty indices changed, the geographical and ethnic composition of poor people also changed. By the turn of the century, the percentage of blacks living in concentrated poverty had decreased from 50 to less than 20. The proportion of Latinos living in poverty increased from 20 percent to more than 65 percent. In Los Angeles, poverty extended from being concentrated in the city and spread to the suburbs and periphery. By 2000, the victims of concentrated poverty had quadrupled in the suburban areas of Los Angeles. However, the highest concentration of poverty remains in the city.
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Contributing Factors

Several factors caused the emergence and increase of concentrated poverty in Los Angeles. One of the main factors is the change in the labour market. The positioning of the city as an entry point made the city attractive to the influx of immigrants, which later triggered industrial restructuring. The city experienced an immigration of low-skilled immigrants from Latin America and Mexico, which caused an increase in low-income residents. The large supply of unskilled and semi-skilled labour force triggered competition for low wages. The low supply of skilled labour force resulted in a loss of high-salaried manufacturing jobs and a decline of higher-paying industries, such as aerospace. Los Angeles also suffered the impacts of severe recession of the early 1990sand a slow recovery. Due to an increase in the concentration of low-income immigrants from diverse ethnic backgrounds, the city experienced civil unrests and increased racial tension. The fragility of the communities caused aflight of capital investment, emigration of the middle class, and a subsequent loss of middle-income range jobs. Los Angeles continues to experience growth of workers in the lower earning scale of the labour market which perpetuates economic inequality.

Whom it Impacts

Latinos. Though poverty is spread in many households in the city, Latinos bear the greatest brunt of the poverty. Since 1990, the Latinos have replaced the blacks as the majority ethnic block affected by concentrated poverty. Latinos make about 47% of the Los Angeles population while blacks make up 11%. The Latinos comprise 74% of the concentrated Poverty Neighbourhoods (CPN), whereas the blacks comprise 17% of the CPN. The Latino risk being affected by concentrated poverty to a scale of 13 times more than whites. Foreign Born Population. The city of Los Angeles is the gateway for immigrants. This makes foreign-born people the largest portion of the overall population in the city to the score of 41%. Further, 52% of the concentrated poverty populations are foreign born. About 82% of the foreign-born concentrated poverty population are not citizens (Mogul). The greatest proportion of the foreign-born population suffering concentrated poverty is affected by linguistic isolation. Local Government. The impact of concentrated poverty is not only felt by individuals and communities. The local government also suffers a direct financial blow. The local government incurs huge poverty-related expenditures on cities which are said to be a result of per capita costs of poor households. The services predominant in poor neighbourhoods that require huge expenditures includes firefighting, police protection, local judicial institutions, and education. Poverty has had a significant bearing on public expenditures in the city of Los Angeles for more than two decades. Poverty influences most patterns of the local government spending. The government spends more resources on the provision of municipal services, such as public safety in high poverty communities, compared to middle-income communities. These costs are higher than the essential costs for a middle-income community, such as emergency health care.


The solution to the problem of concentrated poverty lies in eradicating the effects of poverty. The unemployment rate in concentrated poverty neighbourhoods is higher than the middle and high-end neighbourhoods. Providing opportunities for local employment is one of the important measures the government can take to fight concentrated poverty. The government should sponsor research organisations to conduct analyses on the needs of the communities. The analysis should be followed by examining how the provision of jobs will address the problem of concentrated poverty. However, the two most significant solutions to the problem are reduction of segregation and improvement of housing stock. Reduction of Segregation. There is substantial evidence to demonstrate that people in concentrated poverty neighbourhoods have limited opportunities which yield negative outcomes. These communities are isolated from the middle and high-end communities in terms of provision of public utilities. The people of Los Angeles greatly suffer from the inadequate public investment. The high-end neighbourhoods bag huge amounts of public amenities and services to greater proportions than they require. They are provided with high performing public schools and safe neighbourhoods. In a sharp contrast, children in poor neighbourhoods live in areas of high crime, low-achieving schools and unhealthy environments. The scale of segregation of people and tangible benefits that the government offers the community escalates the spread of concentrated poverty in Los Angeles. Provision of social amenities and services to the people will increase the standard of living and alleviate concentrated poverty. Improving the Housing Stock. Poor housing is one of the factors that have immensely contributed to the increase of concentrated poverty in Los Angeles. The high poverty areas have abandoned properties which discourage investment. The residents of poor neighbourhoods earn low incomes that cannot support high housing costs. They then resolve to live in dilapidated units. About 30% of the households pay half of their incomes for rent, which is still not enough for landlords to meet their properties’ operating and maintenance costs. Many property owners resolve to abandon their buildings and leave them to deteriorate to uninhabitable conditions. This discourages potential investors from building and improving the conditions of the houses. Providing opportunities for improvement of people’s housing conditions can be a significant step in alleviating poverty in Los Angeles. The solution lies in relocating the people to less poverty concentrated areas. Assisting households to move out of distressed areas can go a long way in helping the people avoid the negative experiences of living in areas of concentrated poverty. The relocation to less poor and higher-income neighbourhoods will help the families benefit from opportunities of living in higher income neighbourhoods, such as high paying jobs, and social amenities will yield positive outcomes. Living in such communities will provide access to higher quality education that will prepare the families for higher paying jobs. The winners in this remedy will be the families relocating to higher income neighbourhoods. The tradeoffs in this remedy will involve the government and property owners. The government should provide subsidies and incentives to property owners to facilitate the building of better houses. This will require higher budgetary allocation from the state and federal governments. The high-income tax- payers are also likely to be potential losers because their tax payments will be used to provide incentives for the houses that other classes of people will live. The winners will be the poor families and property owners. The property owners will be facilitated to build houses from which will draw income over a long period. Residents of poor neighbourhoods will also have the opportunity to enjoy a higher standard of living.

Limitation of Making Change

Undertaking the above-stated solutions will not be easy. First, the provision of incentives by the government will require budgetary allocation and approvals. This takes longer time as it requires striking an agreement between various forms of governments. Provision of social amenities will also undergo a similar long process. Second, improving the living standards of people requires a long-term preparation in terms of equipping the people with appropriate education and skills necessary for high-income jobs. The government will be required to provide more incentives such as scholarships to facilitate the acquisition of the required skills. Therefore, living standards will not improve spontaneously but will take a longer time.


The solution to the increasing concentrated poverty lies squarely on the government. Local and federal budget allocation for providing social services and new housing can reduce the spread of poor neighborhoods and improve the lives of the already impoverished people. Further, the government should reduce segregation of Latinos and blacks, and instead provide social amenities equitably. Otherwise, concentrated poverty will escalate to unmanageable levels.