Los Angeles in Focus: A Profile from Census 2000

November 1, 2003

Executive Summary

Census 2000 reflects Los Angeles’s enduring status as a destination for immigrants, but also records a decade of economic difficulty for the city and its region.

Los Angeles’s population growth in the 1990s derived almost entirely from its significant immigration flow, which has made the city among the nation’s most racially diverse. Over 40 percent of city residents were born outside the U.S., and Mexico, Central America, and East Asian countries all contribute heavily to the city’s workforce. These inflows have made Los Angeles one of the nation’s most youthful cities, and explain the large number of families with children who call the city home.

Unfortunately, the economic difficulties that plagued southern California for much of the 1990s seem to have further separated Los Angelenos by race and income. The City and County of Los Angeles lost a significant number of white residents over the decade. Median household income fell precipitously between 1990 and 2000, at a faster rate than in any other Living City. Annual household incomes for the city’s blacks and Latinos trail those for whites by large margins, mirroring differences in educational attainment by race. Homeownership in Los Angeles, already low by large-city standards, declined overall in the 1990s.

Along these lines and others, then, Los Angeles in Focus: A Profile from Census 2000 concludes that:

  • Los Angeles is growing, but not uniformly. After the 1980s boom, population growth in Los Angeles moderated in the 1990s as the city grew by 6 percent. Only parts of the city shared in this growth in the last decade, however. Rapid growth was confined primarily to the San Fernando Valley, while several predominantly African American neighborhoods in South Los Angeles lost considerable population. Unlike other western metro areas, though, city and suburbs grew at roughly the same rate in Los Angeles County in the 1990s. Despite its relatively centralized labor market, two-thirds of area workers continue to drive alone to their jobs.

  • International migrants continued to arrive in Los Angeles in the 1990s, but other groups left the city and region. Los Angeles added 180,000 new foreign-born residents over the decade, so that by 2000 immigrants accounted for over 40 percent of the city’s population—the second-highest presence among the Living Cities. Mexico is by far the most common country of origin for the city’s foreign-born, though populations from El Salvador and Guatemala each number over 100,000. As immigrants grew in number and importance in the 1990s, however, other groups left the city. Most notably, the white population declined by 200,000 in the city, and by 460,000 in the remainder of the county. These population dynamics contributed to separation by race and ethnicity in the region. Los Angeles-Long Beach has the fourth-highest level of segregation between whites and Hispanics among the 100 largest cities in the U.S.

  • Young adults and married couples loom large in Los Angeles. A large share of Angelenos are in their late twenties and early thirties. Many are recent immigrants to the U.S., evidenced by the fact that males outnumber females in this age range. In addition, with many younger Latinos starting families in the city, Los Angeles has the third-highest proportion of married couples with children among the 23 Living Cities. Still, growth in single-parent families outpaced growth in married-couple families in the 1990s, and married couples without children left both the city and suburbs over the decade. The city does retain its appeal for young singles, though, as can be seen in its addition of more than 25,000 singles and other “nonfamily” households in the 1990s.

  • Educational attainment trends point to the emergence of “two economies” in Los Angeles. Just over one-fourth of Los Angeles adults possess a bachelor’s degree, somewhat higher than the national average. However, the proportion that has graduated from high school fell slightly between 1990 and 2000—one of only a few cities in which this occurred. This trend reflects not only the scale of Latin American immigration to Los Angeles, but also the location—and relocation—of more educated workers in other parts of the region. Education statistics by race and ethnicity further suggest that the city is dividing into “two economies” —a high-skill sector in which whites and Asians are disproportionately represented (over 40 percent hold college degrees), and a low-wage sector composed disproportionately of blacks and Latinos (17 percent and 6 percent, respectively, hold college degrees).

  • Los Angeles’s overall economic profile worsened in the 1990s. The effects of economic recession and restructuring in southern California in the early to mid-1990s are revealed in Los Angeles’s economic profile in Census 2000. Where manufacturing once played a pivotal role in the region’s economic stability, that sector employs fewer than one in seven of the city’s workers today. Meanwhile, only six in ten adults participate in the labor force, ranking Los Angeles 80th among the top 100 cities. Median household income in the city fell by nearly 12 percent over the decade, reflecting a drop in middle- and higher-income households and rapid growth in low-to-moderate-income households. Racial and ethnic disparities point to a growing economic divide in the region, as the median household income for whites in Los Angeles is nearly double that for the city’s blacks and Latinos.

  • Bucking the national trend, homeownership declined in Los Angeles over the decade. The 1990s were characterized by growing homeownership in the U.S., especially for racial and ethnic minorities, and for cities generally. In Los Angeles, however, the homeownership rate fell by nearly a full percentage point, and declined for African American and Asian families. The city now ranks 92nd among the 100 largest cities on its homeownership rate. While this reflects in part Los Angeles’s large multifamily housing stock (44 percent of all units), it also reflects the difficulty city families face in saving for homeownership. Even with a large decline in the price of rental units in the 1990s, Los Angeles renters rank second among Living Cities in the degree of housing cost burdens they bear.

By presenting the indicators on the following pages, Los Angeles in Focus: A Profile from Census 2000 seeks to give readers a better sense of where Los Angeles and its residents stand in relation to their peers, and how the 1990s shaped the city, its neighborhoods, and the Los Angeles region. Living Cities and the Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy hope that this information will prompt a fruitful dialogue among city and community leaders about the direction Los Angeles should take in the coming decade.

Los Angeles Data Book Series 1

Los Angeles Data Book Series 2