Los Angeles County the capital of U.S. poverty

port of los angeles wikimedia 2The Census Bureau’s 2012 decision to begin releasing an alternative measure of poverty that included cost of living has appeared to have far-reaching effects in California as politicians, community leaders and residents react to the new measure’s depiction of the Golden State as the most impoverished place in America.

The fact that about 23 percent of state residents are barely getting by has helped fuel the push for a much higher minimum wage and prompted renewed interest in affordable housing programs. It’s also put the focus on regional economic disparities, especially the fact that Silicon Valley and San Francisco are the primary engine of state prosperity.

While the tech boom and the vast increase in housing prices it has triggered in the Bay Area are national news, prompting think pieces and thoughtful analyses, the poverty picture in the state’s largest population center isn’t covered nearly as fully. Although the fact is plain in Census Bureau data, it’s not commonly understood that Los Angeles County is the capital of U.S. poverty. A 2013 study by the Public Policy Institute of California and the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality based on 2011 data found 27 percent of the county’s 10 million residents were impoverished, the highest figure in the state and the highest of any large metro area in the U.S. The study questioned long-held assumptions about poverty being worst in rural areas.

But there are reasons to think the rate in Los Angeles County is significantly higher than the 27 percent reported in 2013.

The first is that many surveys of poverty struggle to account for undocumented immigrants, who often work for cash and don’t show up in wage surveys. The Pew Research Service in 2009 estimated that undocumented individuals face poverty rates “nearly double” those of Americans in general. Los Angeles County has by far the most undocumented immigrants, estimated by PPIC to be 815,000 in 2013.

The second is that the cost of housing has surged in Los Angeles County over the past four years even as wages have stagnated. The average rent of an apartment countywide is expected to be $1,800 by year’s end, with the biggest percentage jump in poorer communities in the San Fernando Valley.

Poverty-related stress takes heavy toll

A summer report by Southern California Public Radio laid out a grim picture of the toll this mass poverty takes on the young.

New research shows the mere fact of being poor can affect kids’ brains, making it difficult for them to succeed in school.

 

Los Angeles public schools — where more than 80 percent of students live in poverty — illustrate the challenges for these students. …

 

Children living in poor neighborhoods are more likely to suffer traumatic incidents, like witnessing or being the victims of shootings, parental neglect or abuse. They also struggle with pernicious daily stressors, including food or housing insecurity, overcrowding and overworked or underemployed, stressed-out parents.

 

Untreated, researchers have found these events compound, affecting many parts of the body. Studies show chronic stress can change the chemical and physical structures of the brain.

 

“You see deficits in your ability to regulate emotions in adaptive ways as a result of stress,” said Dr. Cara Wellman, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University.

 

Dendrites, which look like microscopic fingers, stretch off each brain cell to catch information.  Wellman’s studies in mice show that chronic stress causes these fingers to shrink, changing the way the brain works. She found deficiencies in the pre-frontal cortex – the part of the brain needed to solve problems, which is crucial to learning.

 

Other researchers link chronic stress to a host of cognitive effects, including trouble with attention, concentration, memory and creativity.

SCPR had a follow-up report that showed Los Angeles schools simply didn’t have the resources to help affected students in a comprehensive way.



Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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