On the 50th anniversary of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders report on racial inequality and inner-city conditions — better known as the Kerner Commission — researchers at UCLA Luskin’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK) have found that one of the commission’s primary areas of focus, South Los Angeles, has experienced little economic progress over the past half-century.
The new study, supported by the Lewis Center and many other partners, determined that the wage gap for South LA workers has actually widened since the Kerner Commission, decreasing from 80 cents on the dollar compared to average Los Angeles County workers in 1960 to about 60 cents on the dollar today. It’s one of several striking findings about the lack of housing, transportation, and educational opportunity in a community of more than 720,000 people, which was the site of the 1965 Watts riots that led in part to the Kerner Commission’s creation.
Housing: CNK research shows that South LA has lower rates of homeownership, the principal mechanism for wealth accumulation for middle-class residents, compared to the rest of LA County, and that rates have declined over time. Today, fewer than one in three South LA residents own their home. For those who don’t, the high demand for housing has inflated costs and home values — the average home costs nearly three times as much today as in 1960, placing financial strain on new buyers and putting ownership further out of reach for renters.
Transportation: Despite surging car ownership in Southern California, the study found that South LA households are twice as likely to lack a car and three times as likely to rely on public transit for commuting compared to their county neighbors. In a region with transit service challenges, lacking a car can severely limit residents’ access to job and educational opportunities.
Education: Public schools in South LA have continued to be “separate and unequal” in the decades since the Civil Rights Era. Elementary school performance on standardized testing reveals persistent gaps between South LA and the most affluent neighborhoods in West LA, and despite the Kerner Commission’s specific recommendations to prioritize the expansion of preschool programs, researchers found that in 2016, South LA children were four times less likely to be enrolled in a private preschool than other county children, a gap that has doubled since 1990.
The study was written by Paul M. Ong, Andre Comandon, Alycia Cheng, and Silvia R. González. Research was supported by the Lewis Center, Haynes Foundation, Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, UCLA Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, UCLA Luskin Center for History and Policy, UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Professor Manisha Shah, and UCLA Asian American Studies Center.