Household incomes fell during the 1990s in much of Southern California, according to Census 2000 data released Tuesday, reversing decades of gains and tarnishing the region's historic image as a place of rising fortunes.
Los Angeles County suffered the worst drop in median household income in the state, while median income also fell in Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, and was stagnant in Ventura County.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday May 18, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 9 inches; 327 words Type of Material: Correction
Census data--The headline on Wednesday's Section A story reporting the 2000 census data on lower household income in Southern California incorrectly referred to the amount as an average. The $42,200 figure used was, as the text of the story stated correctly, not an average but a median, meaning that half of all households made more than that amount and half made less.
The income losses in Southern California occurred as median household income rose for California as a whole and sharp increases in income benefited parts of Northern California.
The census reports--the first data released from the "long form" questionnaire delivered to about one in six households nationwide--confirmed what many economists studying California had already observed during the 1990s: widening gaps between the north and south, and the rich and poor. For example:
* In Los Angeles County, the number of individuals living in poverty rose 28% to 1.6 million. Eighteen percent of the county's 9.5 million residents live below the federal poverty line. The growing trend was mirrored throughout Southern California; Orange County, for example, experienced a 44% increase in the number of people in poverty.
* Los Angeles County's median income dropped from $45,600 in 1990 to $42,200 in 2000 when adjusted for inflation. That was a striking change from the previous two decades, when median income in the county rose 3.5% in the '70s and 21.5% in the '80s. The median income in the city of Los Angeles fell even more sharply than the county figure.
* While the county's population grew by 7.4%, its civilian labor force shrank by 5.1% to 4.3 million.
* As welfare reform took hold in the mid-'90s, setting time limits for cash aid and imposing strict work requirements, the number of households receiving welfare dropped. In L.A. County, 32% fewer households--199,000--were receiving welfare in 2000 compared with 1990. In California, the number of households on welfare fell by 42%, to 563,000. The average individual welfare payment shrank an average of 37% in L.A. County to $4,946.
Along with economic information, the long-form data showed other population trends:
* The number of Latinos in L.A. County grew by 26.6% to 4.2 million. County residents of Mexican heritage climbed 20% to more than 3 million.
L.A. County's White and
Black Populations Fell
* The county's white population fell 18.3%, and its black population fell 3.6% while the Asian/Pacific Islander population rose 26.4%.
* The number of adults with less than a ninth-grade education rose faster than the population growth, by 11.9%, to 955,000.
* The number of county residents with bachelor's degrees climbed 19%, to 794,000. And the total of county residents with graduate or professional degrees rose 20%, to 517,000.
* Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties experienced increases of 36% to 70% in the number of foreign-born residents, while Los Angeles County's figure increased by 19%, to 3.5 million, or 36% of the population. More than half of L.A. County's residents--54%--said in 2000 that they spoke a language other than English at home, up from 45% in 1990.
In all, the census data show great gains and losses across the economy and the state.
The statewide increase in the percentage of people in poverty--30%--was greater than L.A. County's. The state's median income rose, however, partly because of a jump in the number of wealthy residents. About 216,000 California residents had incomes above $150,000 in 1990. In 2000, the number grew to about 642,000, without adjusting for inflation.
Los Angeles' income drop was in sharp contrast to an estimated national growth in household income of $2,000 during the same period, said Heather Boushey, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. No national census figure is yet available because the government has released long-form data for only 13 states so far.
Boushey said that in such a national "boom time," Los Angeles' income decline "really does indicate something is going wrong."
Much of what went wrong was a loss of jobs in the recession of the early and mid-'90s that was never fully reversed. For example, the number of manufacturing jobs in Los Angeles County fell in the decade to 587,000 from 861,000, a decrease of 32%, census data show.
Current research suggests that a key reason why median income in Southern California is lower than Northern California is the low pay of jobs created during the 1990s in Southern California. For example, one of the sectors of the Los Angeles County economy that did expand in the '90s was the low-paying textile and apparel sector, which gained nearly 10,000 jobs.
An ongoing UCLA study of newly created jobs in California shows large disparities between development in the north and south, said Ruth Milkman, director of the university's Institute for Labor and Employment.