A forthcoming compendium of research on neighborhood inequality in the United States finds that residents of low-income Los Angeles County communities tend to see little improvement in income. Even communities that are home to those higher-income home buyers known as gentrifiers don't necessarily see incomes rise too much over the decades, says Jared Schachner, a Harvard Ph.D. student in sociology and social policy who contributed to the research.
In Los Angeles County, 97 percent of the poorest neighborhoods in the 1990s were still the poorest neighborhoods in the 2000s, the researchers found. Eighty percent of people who lived in the poorest neighborhoods in the 2000s were still there in 2013, they concluded.
“Highland Park, for example, you'd think there's fluidity from the bottom to the middle,” Schachner says. “That's just not the case. You look at individual neighborhoods in Los Angeles and there is some shifting, but on the whole the story is one of persistence.”
The “Engines of Inequality” report is being published soon by the Russell Sage Foundation. It concludes that, contrary to popular belief, cities “are America’s engines of inequality, segregating neighborhoods and municipalities by not only race and class but also crime, pollution and access to employment,” according to a statement from the foundation.
Researchers found little evidence of textbook gentrification — defined solely in terms of income levels — in Los Angeles County, Schachner says. (The most recent year covered by the research is 2013.) That doesn't mean there aren't numbers to support the argument that white residents are displacing people of color in certain communities, he says. It's just that the income in those areas has remained largely the same.
“Despite the discourse on gentrification, the rich neighborhoods stayed rich, and the poor neighborhoods stayed poor,” Schachner says.
For example, Schachner says that South Los Angeles — most of which is majority Latino — has been the subject of a story line that has south-of-the-border immigrants bringing new entrepreneurial vitality to the region since the 1992 L.A. riots. Yet its low income figures have been stable.
“Even if you see entrepreneurship and immigrants' cultural vitality, that's not necessarily going to show up in income data,” Schachner says. “A lot of those families remain at the bottom of income distribution levels.”
Researchers found that African-American and Latino residents of L.A. shared the bottom of the income distribution chart, while whites remained perched at the top, according to Schachner. “L.A. has a large gap between white and black and Latino, but the black and Latino tend to be almost indistinguishable,” he says. “The real dividing line is that it's really whites with a major advantage.”
However, researchers found that there was both upward and downward mobility in middle-class L.A. communities where the median income level was close to the national median. They also found that, in L.A., “The more diverse and unequal a neighborhood is, the less likely upper-income residents are to share common spaces, like parks or houses of worship,” a spokeswoman for the foundation said via email.