In September, the Los Angeles Urban League hosted a panel series on L.A. County Anti-racism Diversity and Inclusion (ARDI) Initiative’s recently released State of Black LA Report to advance L.A.’s Black community. Business, philanthropic, social, and other civic leaders congregated to focus on a solution-oriented future.
But before we dive into the report’s findings and resolutions, we want to acknowledge the relationship between United Way of Greater Los Angeles and the LA Urban League that’s almost 100 years in the making. “Looking to create a broader financial base for operating funds, the Los Angeles Urban League became a Charter Member of the Los Angeles Community Chest in 1925, now known as the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, a collaboration that continues to this day.” Michael Lawson proudly sits on the UWGLA Board of Directors and serves as the Urban League’s President and CEO. His leadership enables us to focus our mission on helping neighbors in crisis while also creating longer-term, resource-rich communities.
Now let’s break down the report: Why does it exist? What’s in it?
Black Angelenos have been an intrinsic part of LA’s cultural and sociopolitical culture and account for the third-largest Black population in the United States. “Yet, despite the many contributions made by Black Angelenos, many continue to experience the effects of longstanding, systemic, anti-Black racism—which include disproportionate rates of homelessness, incarceration, and other life outcomes that have a significant impact on overall health and wellbeing.”
The annual State of Black Los Angeles County report exposes anti-Black racism’s existence and impact on Black lives. It presents data on challenges facing the Black community, identifies root causes, establishes a framework for tracking progress, and offers actionable recommendations. The ultimate goal is to eliminate racial disparities and achieve equity by disrupting harmful patterns and transforming systems and policies.
Data show that Black Angelenos, on average, experience more adverse outcomes on health, housing, income, education, and safety/justice indicators compared to their non-Black counterparts—particularly Whites and Asians.
Check out the framework that Capacity To Impact (CTI) developed to inform this report:
The average life expectancy for Black residents in L.A. County, is 74.8 years — 12 years lower than Asians (86.6 years) and 6 ½ years lower than the County average (81.3 years)
- Black residents have disproportionately higher rates of obesity (32.5%) and diabetes (14.4%)
- Black rates of having health insurance (93.6%) is only slightly less than that of white (95.5%) and Asian residents (94.3) and the percent of Black residents with no usual source of health care (11.6%) is on par with their white counterparts (11.6%)
- Black residents in LA County (12.9%) were second most likely (behind Hispanics 15.2%) to be “at risk for major depression” and second most likely (20.5%) (behind Whites 21.5%) to be “currently depressed”
- Black residents were less likely (17.4%) than Whites (19.1%) and Latinos (19.1%) to report having serious psychological distress in the past year; and in 2021 (17.9%), less likely than Whites (19.6%) to report that they had seriously thought about committing suicide
- Black residents currently diagnosed with depression were second most likely (67.2%) behind Whites (72.6%) to report that they were taking medication for depression prescribed by a doctor or psychiatrist.
“Average life expectancies in communities within LA County are powerfully influenced by social, economic, and environmental conditions within that community and by larger societal conditions. ”Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health
Factors like segregation, environmental toxins, and lack of access to adequate housing, education, nutritious foods, and health care all contribute to racial disparities in health outcomes and, ultimately life expectancy rates. These factors can only be effectively addressed through supportive infrastructure, which is exactly why at UWGLA we’re working with partners to help bring more resources and services to neighborhoods across the County.
2. Housing and Homelessness
- Black people had the smallest homeownership rate in the County, 33.5% compared to 53.9% for white, 54.0% for Asians, and 39.1 % for Latinos. Black residents (61.9%) were also less likely than White (69%), Asian (69%), and Latino residents (64%) have their mortgage applications accepted.
- Average White home values exceed Black home values by 1.65x
- Black Angelenos are vastly overrepresented among those experiencing homeless. Estimates show that Black Angelenos make up 30% of the homeless population despite being less than 10% of the overall population in LA County.
- Black people are also more likely than every other racial group in the County to be rent-burdened (62%) and experience eviction (1.6 evictions/100 renter households)
- Nearly 2/3 of Black renters are rent-burdened (62%) compared to slightly over half of White (51%) and Asian (52%) renters.
- Black renter households in the County have the greatest likelihood of experiencing eviction, i.e., 1.6 evictions per 100 renter households compared to 1.0 for Whites, 1.1 for Asian, and 1.3 for Latino renter households.
“We keep blaming homelessness on poverty… when poverty itself is a symptom of poor public policy. Unfortunately, we (society) keep treating symptoms rather than eradicating the cause of homelessness.”Tim Watkins, CEO and President of the Watts Labor Community Action Committee
Enough is enough. The most effective way to end homelessness in L.A. is to create the right kinds of housing that people can afford—and a lot of it. But we also need to keep the pressure on policymakers to expand rental protections and housing subsidy programs, including rental assistance for people at risk of eviction, housing vouchers, and broader financial support for people experiencing homelessness who are transitioning into housing.
3. Income and Employment
- Black households have the lowest median income of any other racial/ethnic group in the County.
- Black households, on average, earn $20,000 less than the County median and nearly $40,000 less than white households.
- Compared to 16% of whites and 21% of Asians living below 200% of the Federal Poverty Line, 29% of Black residents live below this threshold
- Black residents have the highest unemployment rate in the County 10% compared to the County average of 6.5%
- On college degree attainment (A.A., B.A., or higher), it is 39.5% of Blacks, compared to 62.2% for whites and 61.6% for Asians.
Subject-matter expert Mike Davis, President Pro Tempore of the City of Los Angeles Board of Public Works, in an interview for this report identified four root causes and drivers of these disparities:
(1) stagnant growth in the Black community after the implementation of Proposition 209;
(2) inadequate educational and professional development opportunities;
(3) racial disparities in compensation;
(4) the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on the Black community in Los Angeles.
One way we’re trying to bridge economic gaps is through the Women’s Investment Network — a pooled investment fund & mutual aid network for working women in Los Angeles. Through this initiative, Black and Latina women accrue valuable financial assets, invest in their communities, and increase their personal wealth by pooling their funding in United Way’s affordable housing and economic development investments.
- Fewer Black children (55.6%) in LA County are enrolled in any kind of childcare than white (77.2%) and Asian children (61.7%)
- On 3rd grade standardized test scores, Black students have the lowest scores on English (32.4%) and Math (32.1%) for students meeting or exceeding grade level performance
- Black students also have the highest rates of school suspensions (5.6%) and absences (24.3%)
- The high school diploma rate for Black students is 73.54%, 14 – 20 percentage points less than white and Asian students.
- College-going rates for Black students is 58.5%, 81.2% for Asian students, and 72% for White students
“The school system in America was not designed for African American students in the first place.”Dr. Bernadette Lucas, Chief Academic Officer for Inglewood Unified School District
Because we know that a person’s health, housing, income, and other measures of wellbeing are directly shaped by educational outcomes and experiences, there’s a dire need to intervene on both the systemic and emotional levels. The report cites a sense of belonging as a critical component of academic success. Students who feel a sense of belonging – that they are seen, valued, and respected – outperform students who don’t feel a sense of belonging. While this isn’t something a policy can necessarily fix, we can collectively take action by implementing trainings, creating spaces for students to receive additional support, and expanding funding for mental health services.
5. Safety and Justice
- Black residents (82.9%) were less likely than White (88.5%) and Asian (90.1%) residents to perceive their neighborhood as safe
- Black residents were over 100x more likely than Asian residents, nearly 12x more likely than White residents, and close to 4.5 times more likely than Hispanic/Latino residents to be incarcerated in California’s prisons.
“Dr. Alfaro describes Los Angeles as the ‘Silicon Valley of Social Justice’, noting that given its demographic variety and size and its history of racial discord, ‘If [policies concerning race and justice] can work here, they can work anywhere.”Dr. Alfaro
Generations of struggle require generations of investment. We’re proud to be a part of the Reimagine L.A. Coalition that helped secure the passage of Measure J in 2020. Led by Black and Brown voices, the measure aims to move investments from police and instead fund jobs, housing, healthcare, mental health, services and care.
Measure J has been an inspiring start. But despite justice-related policy changes over the last several years, L.A. County continues to have the largest jail system in the nation. To date, Black Angelenos still have the highest rate of incarceration in the County.
What’s Next? Creating A Just World
Dr. Armour and Dr. Alfaro note in the report that, “We need a fundamental change in how people are thinking about the relationship between poverty, crime, social factors, and personal responsibility.”
It’s hard to change the way people think, but it’s not impossible. One promising approach involves fortifying the connections between individuals and organizations dedicated to providing support, ultimately reshaping public perception of these relationships. Every neighborhood in L.A. has a vision for what their community could be. That’s why we work with local partners to create community-owned approaches to building wealth and power that will change the future for this generation and the next.
A more just world will require more political participation and more pressure on the local government to implement policies that effectively address these multifaceted issues. We also must appropriately fund programs so that every community has resources and services that its people can actually access.
“The safest communities are not the ones with most police, but the ones with most resources.”Dr. Jody Armour
Our work is centered on creating resource-rich communities so that people can find support in the short term and prosperity in the long term. Resource-rich communities influence a person’s sense of belonging, foster economic opportunity and improve a person’s overall quality of life.
Please share the State of Black L.A. report with colleagues, friends and family. Knowledge is power.
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