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10% Drop in Median Income in County Reported

November 15, 2002|Kenneth Reich | Times Staff Writer

The median income of Los Angeles County households diminished by a "startling" 10% in inflation-adjusted dollars between 1990 and 2000, according to a report issued Thursday by United Way.

The figure went from $45,266 at the beginning of the decade to $42,189 at the end of it, a decrease of about 7% without adjusting for inflation.

The 23-page report, "A Tale of Two Cities," contrasts rich and poor in the county and is an updated version of a United Way study three years ago.

Citing a variety of government and private sources, Marge Nichols, who wrote the new report, said that 18% of all the county's residents, or about 1.7 million, are living below the poverty level, currently defined as $18,100 a year for a family of four. But this represents a considerable improvement from 1995, during a severe recession, when 24% of the residents were below the poverty line.

The report says 23% of the county's households have incomes of less than $20,000 a year.

At the other end, 3% have annual incomes of $200,000 or more.

At a meeting called by United Way at USC on Thursday, a panel of experts discussed the meaning of the study. Panelist Arianna Huffington, a syndicated columnist, said she has figures indicating that although household income has been losing ground in Los Angeles, chief executives nationwide earned 571% more in 2000 on average than in 1990.

The report also found that Los Angeles County's demographics are changing so quickly that by 2010 it is expected to have a majority Latino population.

Fifty-four percent of county residents speak a language other than English at home, and 36% of them are foreign-born, Nichols said. Legal immigration added 1.2 million people to the county's population during the decade. The largest group of immigrants was from Latin America, 62%, followed by 30% from Asian countries. By 2000, 38% of the foreign-born had become U.S. citizens, compared with only 27% in 1990.

Although 48% of high school graduates in the county entered college in 2000, 30% of adults age 25 and over had not graduated from high school.

The report also found that:

* The county leads the nation in the number of Latino- and Asian-owned businesses, but is third in the number of African American-owned businesses.

* Minority businesses employ a total of 476,000 workers in the county.

* Only 32% of former welfare recipients who have been working for five years earn incomes above the poverty level.

* The greatest job growth in recent years has occurred within lower-wage occupations.

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