LA Progressive

Why So Little 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 the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs: SLA since the 60s

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 fifty 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.

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.

Paul Ong, Silvia Gonzalez, and Lisa Hasegawa
UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge