Unemployment in Black Cities: Loop21 Explores Los Angeles
As part of our continuing series, we look at black unemployment in “La La Land."
Even locals will admit that Los Angeles is a hard city to get a proper grip on. Unlike older American municipalities, it resists easy identification and characterization. This is largely because of its unusual history and geography; essentially, it’s a crazy-quilt of decentralized communities bundled together in a single loose, sprawling entity.
Combine that with a dense population composed of every nationality imaginable, and you’ve got a thick ethnic soup. In most parts of the city, it’s rare to be among a crowd that consists of only a single race of people. That said, certain communities make up the bulk of the population in big neighborhoods. East L.A., for example, is host to much of the city’s considerable Hispanic population (much of this, in turn, is comprised of Mexican immigrants or their direct descendants). The black community, meanwhile, still makes up the bulk of the population of South Central (or South L.A., as the city’s trying to rebrand the area).
L.A. is a city for strivers, a big and famous place where people come to succeed. Like many of the world’s major cities, that means a huge and ever-growing population. Los Angeles County (which encompasses nearby communities like Malibu and Long Beach that are separate from the county’s namesake city) had a population of 9.8 million souls according to the 2010 census. This was a 3% increase over the figure for the year 2000. That might not sound like much, but in absolute terms that meant an increase of around 400,000 people. Averaged out, 40,000 people every year arrive in the L.A. area.
[ALSO READ: Unemployment in Black Cities: NYC]
Considering that, it’s no wonder the city doesn’t have enough jobs to employ them all. It’s historically lagged considerably behind the national unemployment rate (as has California as a whole). Things are no different now, even in our current atmosphere of gradual recovery. This past March, L.A. County unemployment stood at 11.8%, which was quite a distance above the 8.2% national level. The former rate was an improvement over that of the same period last year, but not a big one – it stood at 12.2% at that point.
A lack of jobs hits the African-American community hard, particularly when the little work that’s available melts away. According to the Economic Policy Institute, L.A. County’s black unemployment rate was a relatively reasonable 8.3% in the pre-recession year of 2007. As the economic slowdown started to bite, jobs were lost exponentially. The number ballooned to an even 15% in 2009 and to nearly 20% one year later. That year-on-year percentage point decline was the worst among the more than 30 cities surveyed by the Institute.
Historically, L.A.’s African-American population has been large, poor, and isolated. These factors strongly contributed to the Watts riots in 1965 and the civil unrest of 1992. Both took place in South Central.
Since those dark days, relations with the police (another big factor in the rioting) have improved, as have the community’s upward mobility and job prospects. But unemployment is still a problem in L.A., and when the city’s economy sneezes the black community catches the cold. The city can be a very pleasant one to live in, with its balmy weather and pretty beaches, but that can turn into Hell for people out of work seeking their next paycheck.