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Class-Divided Cities: Los Angeles Edition

Class-Divided Cities: Los Angeles Edition
Zara Matheson/MPI

This is the second post in a series exploring the growing class divides across America's largest cities and metros. It examines the residential locations of today’s three major classes: the shrinking middle of blue-collar workers; the rising ranks of the knowledge, professional, and creative class; and the even larger and faster-growing ranks of lower-paid service workers, using detailed data from the American Community Survey. For a detailed description of methodology, see the first post in the series, on New York.

The city of Los Angeles. (MPI's Zara Matheson)

The map above charts the geography of class for the city of Los Angeles; the second map, below, includes the pattern for the entire L.A. metro area. The creative class lives in the areas that are shaded in purple, the red areas are primarily service class, and the blue are working class. Each colored space on the map is a Census tract, a small area within a city or county that can be even smaller than a neighborhood. The maps are interactive: Click on a tract to see how its percentages for each of the three major classes.

The Los Angeles metro area. (MPI's Zara Matheson)

The creative class includes people who work in science and technology, business and management, arts, culture, media and entertainment, law, and healthcare professions. All told the class's ranks make up 34.1 percent of the Los Angeles metro area's workers, just slightly higher than the national average. These are high-skilled, highly educated workers who average $80,859 per year in wages in salaries, significantly more than the national average for these workers.

As the maps show, the creative class is quite highly concentrated in the city of Los Angeles and across the metro. There are 1,036 tracts (36.4 percent) with more than 40 percent of its residents are members of this class, 628 (22 percent) with more than 50 percent, 104 (3.6 percent) with more than two thirds, and 16 (0.6 percent) where the creative class makes up more than three-quarters of all residents.

In the city, there is a major creative class cluster stretching from Hollywood, Bel Air, and Westwood, where UCLA is located, to the beach community of Venice, and a small cluster near downtown, especially around USC. For the metro broadly, the creative class stretches out along the coast from Santa Monica, home to the RAND Corporation and Milken Institute to Malibu on the north; and, Manhattan Beach to Palos Verdes; south from Huntington Beach and Newport Beach to Irvine, home to the University of California, Irvine, Laguna Beach and Dana Point; as well Pasadena, home to Caltech and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The table below lists the 10 census tracts with the densest creative class concentrations. Many of these tracts include or are close to major universities, colleges and think tanks: Turtle Rock in Orange County (UC-Irvine); Westwood (UCLA), Pasadena (Caltech) and Santa Monica (RAND). Hollywood, not surprisingly, has a large creative class concentration, as does neighboring Los Feliz. Woodland Hills is something of an anomaly: Located in the Valley, it's highly suburban and does not offer proximity to research universities or other knowledge-based institutions.

Top 10 Creative Class Locations in the Los Angeles Metro
Neighborhood (Census Tract #) Creative Class Share
Turtle Rock/UC Irvine, Orange County (626.29) 84.3%
Laurel Canyon, Hollywood (1941.02) 79.5%
Woodland Hills (1375.04) 78.1%
Westwood (2651) 78.0%
North of Montana, Santa Monica (7012.01) 77.9%
South Pasadena (4635) 77.7%
Rancho Park, Palms (2693) 77.4%
Los Feliz (882.02) 76.7%
South Arroyo, Pasadena (4638) 76.6%
Cheviot Hills, Palms (2695) 76.0%
Metro Average 34.1%

 

The service class entails workers in low-wage, low-skill, routine service jobs such as food service and preparation, retail sales, clerical and administrative positions, and the like. This is the largest class of workers, making up 46.3 percent of the region's workers, just slightly beneath the national average. Service workers in the metro average $32,367 per year in wages and salaries. While this is considerably above the national average for these workers, it is just 40 percent of the wages of the metro's creative class workers. There are 859 (30.1 percent) tracts where the class makes up more than half of the residents, 25 (0.9 percent) where it is more than two-thirds, and four (0.1 percent) where it is more than three-quarters.

In the city, L.A.'s service class tends to reside on the periphery of the major creative class clusters in North Hollywood, further out in Reseda and in the neighborhoods between Hollywood and downtown. The same basic pattern holds for the metro with the service class pushed farther out. The map shows an enormous service class cluster bordering L.A.'s west end, Santa Monica and Pasadena, stretching all the way south to Anaheim and Santa Ana, and two additional big clusters in the metro's northern and northeastern corners.

The table below lists the top service class locations. These include farther out locations, but also two tracts each in Hollywood and Silver Lake, again showing how major service class areas often abut substantial creative class concentrations.

Top 10 Service Class Locations in the Los Angeles Metro
Neighborhood (Census Tract #) Service Class Share
Cal Poly Pomona (4024.04) 82.3%
USC, West Adams-Expo Park (2227) 79.5%
Bixby Village, Long Beach (5746.01) 79.4%
Park Mesa Heights, Crenshaw (2349.01) 78.3%
Silver Lake/Chinatown (2071.02) 74.9%
Silver Lake/Chinatown (2071.03) 71.5%
North Hollywood (1241.03) 71.1%
Hollywood Heights (1902.01) 69.0%
Cambodia Town, Long Beach (5764.01) 68.9%
Hollywood (1908.01) 68.8%
Metro Average 46.3%

 

The working class includes workers who work in factory jobs as well as those in transportation and construction. It comprises 19.5 percent of the region's workers (below the national average of 21 percent), who average $37,066 in wages and salaries, just slightly more than the national average, but less than half that of the region's creative class workers.

L.A.'s once thriving working class districts are disappearing. There are just 59 tracts (2.1 percent) where the working class makes up more than half of all workers. But there are 712 tracts (25 percent) where it is less than 10 percent of residents, and 256 (nine percent) where it is less than five percent.

Top 10 Working Class Locations in the Los Angeles Metro
Neighborhood (Census Tract #) Working Class Share
Westlake (2089.02) 69.9%
Whiteman Airport, Pacoima (1047.03) 65.0%
Central Alameda, South Park (2287.10) 62.9%
Pixley Park, Maywood (5333) 62.2%
El Monte (4333.02) 59.8%
Westlake (2084.01) 59.1%
Cudahy (5344.03) 58.9%
South Park (2240.10) 58.6%
Central Alemeda, South Park (2281) 58.2%
South Figueroa, South Park (2284.10) 57.3%
Metro Average 19.5%

 

Perhaps the most notable feature of the map is what is not there — a substantial working class presence. There are just a few smatterings of blue (indicating working class areas) around downtown, in the northeast near Burbank, and south in the Compton and Long Beach areas. South Park is an area in the more famous "South Central" ecosystem - not the rapidly gentrifying area near the convention center, which has co-opted the name. Cudahy is a strongly Latino area, its own city actually, on the east side of South Central near the 710 freeway. Westlake is a slowly gentrifying neighborhood between Koreatown and Downtown. As the maps show, L.A.'s once considerable manufacturing and working class areas have largely disappeared.

Following the pattern we saw in the first post in this series on New York, L.A. too is divided and segmented by class. But unlike New York's pattern, with its heavy creative class concentration at the core in Manhattan and surrounding parts of Brooklyn and Jersey City, L.A.'s creative class, much of which is no doubt affiliated with the film and television industry, is more spread out along the coast. That said, L.A.'s class geography does not conform to a typical urban-suburban pattern, with lower-wage service workers concentrated in the urban core and the more affluent creative class at the suburban fringe. The pattern of creative class clustering seen in New York does carry over but is expressed in different forms. There are creative class pockets in the city and its downtown as well as in coastal suburbs.

Patrick Adler, a Ph.D. candidate in urban planning at UCLA, points out that these creative clusters function as "anchors" of sorts which spread across multiple Census tracts, noting that they are a "striking regularity across the maps." He adds that "L.A.'s industry was never nearly as centralized as New York's. The variety of mechanisms that have led creatives 'back to the city' — that is back to where industrial and warehouse buildings are - have led to a more diffused kind of pattern." While powered by similar underlying mechanisms, L.A.'s ongoing transformation and gentrification takes shape around a more spread out pattern than in older Northeastern cities with their well-defined industrial cores. In this sense, he adds, "N.Y.'s Williamsburg and L.A.'s Venice are more similar than different" in their evolutionary role and function. The service class is clustered in broad swaths between and further beyond these creative class districts near downtown and further out in the suburban periphery. The region's shrinking working class is more tightly pocketed again in a mix of urban and suburban locations.

L.A.'s economic geography thus reflects the post-suburban segmentation and fracturing of metropolis along class lines, something I'll be writing more about in this series. Next week, I'll turn my attention to Chicago.

Prior posts in this series:

Richard Florida is Co-Founder and Editor at Large at The Atlantic Cities. He's also a Senior Editor at The Atlantic, Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, and Global Research Professor at New York University. He is a frequent speaker to communities, business and professional organizations, and founder of the Creative Class Group, whose current client list can be found here. All posts »

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