An Equity Profile of the Los Angeles Region

Posted on 11/08/17 by Pamela Stephens


While the nation is projected to become a people-of-color majority by the year 2044, Los Angeles reached that milestone in the 1980s. Los Angeles’ diversity is a major asset in the global economy, but inequities and disparities are holding the region back. Closing racial gaps in economic opportunity and outcomes will be key to the region’s future.

To build a more equitable Los Angeles, leaders in the private, public, nonprofit, and philanthropic sectors must commit to putting all residents on the path to economic security through equity-focused strategies and policies to grow good jobs, build capabilities, remove barriers, and expand opportunities for the people and places being left behind.

The county has led the nation’s demographic shift—but the pace of change is slowing

While the nation is projected to be people-of-color majority by the year 2044, Los Angeles County crossed that threshold in the 1980s. The region is the ninth most diverse among the largest 150 metros. Communities of color—Latinos, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, African Americans, Native Americans, and people of mixed and other racial backgrounds—represent 73 percent of residents today. Latinos are projected to become a demographic majority by 2020.

People of color are driving the county’s growth

The region experienced dramatic growth and change since 1980, growing from 7.5 million to 10 million residents. People of color have driven the region’s growth and will continue to drive growth but the pace of racial/ethnic change will be slower than the nation overall.

Since 2000, Los Angeles’ Latino population has grown by 13% adding 571,540 residents. In the same period, the Asian population has grown by 22%, adding another 246,139 residents. The region’s Native American, African American, and non-Hispanic White populations have all decreased.

Inequality is rising in Los Angeles County, and there are fewer middle-class pathways

Los Angeles ranks seventh in income inequality out of the largest 150 metro regions. Inequality is driven, in part, by a widening gap in wages. Since 1979, the highest-paid workers have seen their wages increase by 13%, while wages for the lowest-paid workers have declined by 25%.

Racial economic inequities are wide and persistent in the county

People of color are far more likely to be in poverty or working poor than Whites. Nearly a quarter of the County’s African Americans (24.5%) and Latinos (23.7%) live below the poverty level—compared with about one in ten Whites (10.6%). Latinos are much more likely to be working poor compared with all other groups. The working poverty rate for Latinos (12.5%) is almost three times as high as for African Americans (4.3%).

Educational gaps may leave a workforce unprepared for jobs of the future

A skilled workforce is central to economic competitiveness in today’s knowledge-driven economy. The region will face a skills gap unless education levels increase. By 2020, 44% of the state's jobs will require an associate’s degree or higher. Only 10% of Latino immigrants, 28% of U.S.-born Latinos, and 34% of Blacks and Native Americans have reached that level of education. Higher percentages of Whites (58%) and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, both immigrant (59%) and native-born (69%), have at least an associate’s degree.

Racial and economic inclusion would strengthen Los Angeles County’s economy

Los Angeles County’s rising inequality and its racial gaps in income, wages, education, and poverty are not only bad for communities of color, but they also hinder the whole region’s economic growth and prosperity. According to our analysis, if there were no racial disparities in income, the region’s GDP would have been $380 billion higher in 2014: a 58% increase.


Los Angeles’ diversity is a major potential asset in the global economy, but inequities and disparities are holding the region back. To build a more equitable and sustainable regional economy, Los Angeles must take steps to better connect its communities of color to quality education, high-opportunity jobs, and affordable housing. To do that, PolicyLink/PERE suggests that the region:

  • Choose strategies that promote equity and growth simultaneously.
  • Target programs and investments to the people and places most left behind.
  • Leverage public investment for equitable outcomes.
  • Make economic and social integration a
  • common agenda.
  • Use data to inform dialogue and deliberation.
  • Assess equity impacts at every stage of the policy process.
  • Ensure meaningful community participation, voice, and leadership.
  • Restore civic life and instill a spirit of stewardship.
  • Stick with equity strategies for the long haul.
  • Pioneer model equity strategies for the nation.

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