Southern California has the highest percentage of poor families and poorly educated residents among the nation's large metropolitan areas, according to data released Tuesday by the Census Bureau.
The Los Angeles-Riverside-Orange County area has the highest percentage of residents with less than a ninth-grade education, the lowest percentage of those who have completed high school and the highest percentage of families in poverty.
Residents of the Greater Los Angeles area also use more of their income to pay for housing than those in most other metropolitan areas, and are among the most likely to speak a language other than English at home.
Tuesday marked the first time the government released nationwide totals from the Census 2000 "long form," a survey distributed to 20 million households covering topics from income to education to commuting.
State-by-state data had been released earlier this spring.
Los Angeles' rankings further confirmed the impact of immigration, said USC demographer Dowell Myers, an expert in census analysis.
"Los Angeles is skewed because we draw so heavily from Mexico and Central America," and immigrants from those countries often have low levels of schooling, he said.
Myers said the bleak statistics may not reflect the reality for native-born or better educated Southern Californians.
"Because there's a high percentage of poor, does that mean you'll become poor if you move to L.A.? No. Does it mean we're doing a bad job at education? Not if people moved here after they've finished their education.... Does it mean the economy is not performing well? No. If someone comes here with less than a ninth-grade education, they're almost doomed to a life of poverty," he said.
The Los Angeles area tied Miami as the region with the highest percentage of Latinos, at 40.3%. The San Francisco area was the only metropolitan area with a larger share of Asian American residents, at 18.4% compared with Los Angeles' 10.4%.
Southern California's white and African American populations were proportionately among the smallest of the large metropolitan areas.
Whites made up 39% of the Los Angeles area population; it was the second-smallest percentage among the 14 metropolitan areas with 3 million or more residents. African Americans represented 7.6% of the area's residents, the 10th-highest percentage among the 14 metro areas.
Los Angeles had the second-highest percentage of foreign-born residents (30.9%), behind Miami and ahead of San Francisco, New York and Houston.
Myers said different immigration patterns account for San Francisco and New York having large foreign-born populations but lower poverty and higher education levels than Los Angeles.
San Francisco has a higher proportion of Asian immigrants, and New York receives many African, West Indian and European immigrants who tend to have higher education levels than those from Mexico and Central America, he said.
The newly released census data also showed that Los Angeles area residents might have some surprising advantages over those in other big cities.
Despite the Los Angeles area's rush hour traffic, mean travel time to work is longer in New York, Washington, Atlanta, Chicago and San Francisco than the 29.1 minutes it takes the average Angeleno to get from home to job.
The Los Angeles area ranks eighth in the percentage of residents who use public transportation to get to work.
Some highlights from national data released Tuesday:
* The percentage of Americans living below poverty level decreased slightly from 13.1% in 1989 to 12.4% in 1999.
(In the Los Angeles area, individuals below the poverty level increased, from 13.1% to 15.6%. By another measure--the proportion of families below the poverty level--Los Angeles had the worst total among large metropolitan areas.)
The poverty level differs according to a household's makeup.
For instance, in 1999, the poverty threshold for a family of four with three children was $16,954.
By comparison, that threshold for a three-person household with one child was $13,410.
* Americans' median household income went up from an inflation-adjusted $39,008 to $41,994 during the decade. In the L.A. area, it fell from $47,646 to $45,903.
* The average one-way commuting time increased by three minutes to nearly 26 minutes. More people drove to work alone, and fewer people carpooled or took public transportation.
* Nearly one in four Americans age 25 and older have at least a college education, up from one in five in 1990.
The Los Angeles area is close to the national average--24.4% have at least a bachelor's degree--but that ranks the area only 12th out of the 14 large metropolitan areas.
John Logan, a sociologist at the State University of New York at Albany, said Midwest metropolitan areas benefited from the 1990s expansion more than Southern California and the Northeast.
For example, metropolitan areas such as Detroit made big gains, although the city still suffers from high poverty and unemployment, he said.