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Race and Wealth Determine Who Lives Where in L.A.

History professor Philip J. Ethington reviews geospatial maps generated in connection with his study on race and wealth residential patterns in Los Angeles County.

Photo by Irene Fertik

Segregation is alive and well in Long Beach, the San Fernando Valley, the South Bay and the Southland as a whole, according to a USC study of 88 cities and 113 unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County.

“The really striking characteristic is the stark and deepening division between a blue-collar non-white population living at the core of the county and a white-collar white population living on the periphery,” said Philip J. Ethington, an associate professor of history and author of the study.

“While the county overall is one of the most racially diverse in the nation, that diversity exists alongside and within extreme patterns of race and wealth segregation,” he added.

For instance:

• The probability that whites in the year 2000 will have interactions with African-Americans in their own neighborhood is a mere 6 percent.

The probability that His panics will interact with whites in their own neighborhood is only 15 percent.

Even after controlling for education and occupation, the chances of having property values above the county average are six times greater if one lives in a majority-white census tract.

The linkage between whiteness and wealth has risen steadily since 1940.

In the recently completed study – funded by the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation – Ethington examines the shift in residential patterns by ethnic group and race from 1940 to 1990 and divides the county into eight regions: central, Pasadena, San Gabriel Valley, southeast L.A. County, South Bay, Westside, San Fernando Valley and the desert and mountain region.

The startling picture that emerges anticipates the release of the 2000 Census next year and alerts regional policy-makers to the trends they are likely to encounter as the new data are released.

“Mayoral candidates in this year’s Los Angeles city election must develop policies for a metropolis that shows every sign of becoming more divided by class and race, even as it becomes more diverse,” said Ethington.

“Spatial distance and isolation really make a difference in civic behavior. In three key race-charged votes in 1964, 1978 and 1994, race-based voting in creased with distance from the center of the African-American and Latino populations,” he added.

Ethington’s study highlights the value of two new resources available to USC researchers. “The complexity of the data was so great that this study would have been impossible without USC’s new Geographic Information Systems laboratory,” said Ethington. In addition, USC’s Information Services Division is making the data available to re searchers through its new Integrated Digital Archives.

Ethington’s study also casts a harsh light on the secessionist movements building in Holly wood, San Pedro and San Fernando Valley. Splintering off into smaller cities, he said, will not solve the problems of the megalopolis and may even make them worse.

“Los Angeles County is so large that if you were to cut it up into smaller pieces, each piece would still inherit all of the characteristics of the whole. For instance, the race and class dynamics that have increasingly created segregated neighborhoods will be exacerbated should San Pedro, Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley secede from the city of Los Angeles,” he said.

“The potential secession of peripheral areas from the city of Los Angeles threatens to make L.A. as dysfunctional as metropolitan areas with impoverished central cities, like Detroit,” said Ethington. “We will eventually isolate all the whiteness and wealth outside of downtown, leaving working-class minorities alone to carry the burden of supporting America’s premier Pacific Rim city. That isolation – along with its socioeconomic contrasts – are grist for the mill of social conflict and civil disorder.”

Philip J. Ethington’s study, data set and interactive maps can be found at:

Race and Wealth Determine Who Lives Where in L.A.

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