South L.A Shows Little Economic Gains 20 Years After Riots

April 30, 2012  |  

Twenty years ago, South Los Angeles was shaken by riots that expressed the anger and frustration of African Americans living in poverty and held back by racism. Flash forward to today, The Los Angeles Timesis reporting that, economically, things haven’t gotten much better.

South Los Angeles was 50 percent black at the time of the riots. Many of those that have had a means to leave have done so, leaving the city only 30 percent African American with black-owned businesses in a steep decline. The median income, when adjusted for inflation, is lower.

A post-riots report observed that South Los Angeles needs about $6 billion in investments and the creation of 75,000-94,000 jobs to boost the situation of the people living in the 51 square mile area. But although job fair after job fair has landed in the area, there hasn’t been much job creation. In South Los Angeles’ Florence Graham and Westmont, the unemployment rate has almost reached 24 percent, worse than Florence Graham’s 21 percent unemployment rate during the riots in 1992, and Westmont’s 12 percent.

“Those folks are most likely to advance when there’s strong economic growth and a strong public-sector investment,” Chris Tilly, the director of the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment said to the LA Times. “I don’t want to say there’s no hope, but I will say that aspect of the national political environment makes me pessimistic at the moment.”

Both federal and state governments have invested heavily in the area to boost economic growth since 1994, but the main goal was to bring private companies to the area.

“There are many things the private sector does well, but investment in depressed areas is not often one of them,” Tilly said. “The nature of private-sector investors is to look where the payoff is. If you’ve got large swaths of the city where there are bad schools, poor people and crime, that’s not where private investment will go.”

Most of the middle class manufacturing and aerospace jobs that were available in the 1970s and 1980s have since vanished leaving many unemployed. Although Toyota’s training center was successful after the riots and produced about 1000 graduates, it has since closed.  Even when jobs do become available, they often don’t offer a secure living wage for workers.

It’s a bleak picture and as Rev. Richard Byrd of Krst Unity Center of Afrakan Spiritual Science says, the problem is worse today. “From the standpoint of where we ought to be today, we’ve failed to make any progress.”

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