Los Angeles Skid Row and Poverty
Like many big cities in the USA there is an area and sometimes areas where the poverty is rampant or otherwise and people have little money. Some of these areas are known as “skid row” although some have no distinct name and/or specified area boundaries, but are almost always in certain specific areas. Such areas are generally not places tourists would want to go. In most cases when we travel we want and expect to see the nicer places. In addition places that are safe are best for travelers.
Los Angeles is no exception when it comes to poverty and it too has such an area known as skid row. The area is populated by many homeless people. It seems ashamed there are so many homeless in Los Angeles but the city is no exception, for many other cities also have such an area. Other cities may not have as many homeless, at least those that are noticeable, but nevertheless many cities have a homeless population.
Skid Row, officially known as Central City East, is an area of Downtown Los Angeles. As of the 2000 census, the population of the district was 17,740. While no defined boundaries exist, Skid Row is generally used to refer to the area east of San Pedro Street, south of Third Street, west of Central Avenue, and north of Seventh Street.
The area contains one of the largest stable populations of homeless persons in the United States. Local homeless count estimates have ranged from 3,668 to 5,131. The estimate for 2011 was 4,316 people. People passing through this area see cardboard boxes and camping tents lining the sidewalks. According to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the official boundaries are Third and Seventh Streets to the north and south and Alameda and Main Streets to the east and west, respectively.
Now, because of heavy involvement with the missions downtown, LAPD (Los Angeles Police Dept.) and the Mayor’s office, the landscape has dramatically changed from mid-2006 to current. In fact on July 10, 2011, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited the area. They visited a school for the arts for disadvantaged children.
LA Homeless History
Image credit: Jorobeq at en.wikipedia
Los Angeles has chosen to centralize homeless services in Skid Row since the mid-1970s. LA has a long-standing “policy of concentrating and containing the homeless in the Skid Row area”. In the late 1980s, James K. Hahn (Los Angeles City Attorney at that time) refused to prosecute the homeless for sleeping in public under the anti-camping ordinance, unless the City provided them with an alternative to the streets, on the grounds that the law is a violation of the 8th Amendment. In 1999, the rent for an SRO room (housing for very low income persons typically consisting of a single room with shared bathroom) in Los Angeles was $379 per month.
Over 253,000 people were homeless in Los Angeles County at some point during 2002. Waiting lists for public housing and for housing assistance vouchers in Los Angeles were 3 to 10 years long. In 2003, Los Angeles’s homeless population was growing 10% per year. The City of Los Angeles enacted the old “anti-camping” ordinance, under which the punishment for sleeping on public land is arrest and one night in jail. Police discard blankets, cooking utensils, and tents. This forces homeless people to stay awake and to keep moving.
Skid Row was a place of poverty, drug use, and crime by 2005. It had Porta-Potty outhouses used for sleeping, drug use, drug dealing, and prostitution. The original purpose of the Porta-Potties was to prevent defecation on the street. Needless to say that idea didn’t go over too well. I remember seeing on TV when hospitals and law enforcement from nearby suburban areas were caught “dumping” homeless people at Skid Row upon their release.
There were 80,000 homeless individuals in Los Angeles County in 2006 on any given night. The area is now largely occupied by SRO hotels, shelters, and other facilities for the homeless. Typically, there is not enough space in these shelters, so more than 1,000 people are unable to find shelter each night. In L.A. County, there are almost 50,000 more homeless people than available beds.
The availability of low-income housing in Skid Row had shrunk by 2006. At night, these shelters are the only alternatives to sleeping on the street. During the day, two small parks are open to the public to sleep in. Those who cannot get into these shelters sleep on sidewalks.
According to the 2000 census there were 17,740 people and 2,410 households residing in the neighborhood. The population density was 4,111 people per sq. mi. The racial makeup of the neighborhood was 25.5% White, 16.7% African American, 0.4% Native American, 5.8% Asian, 40.7% from other races, and 2.0% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 51.4% of the population.
The per capita income for the neighborhood was $14,210. About 41.8% of the population was below the poverty line.
Poverty in the United StatesIn November 2012 the U.S. Census Bureau said more than 16% of the population lived in poverty in the United States, including almost 20% of American children, up from 14.3% (approximately 43.6 million) in 2009 and to its highest level since 1993. In 2008, 13.2% (39.8 million) Americans lived in poverty. In 2011, Extreme poverty in the United States, meaning households living on less than $2 per day before government benefits, was double 1996 levels at 1.5 million households, including 2.8 million children.
In 2013, child poverty reached record high levels, with 16.7 million children living in food insecure households, about 35% more than 2007 levels. The number of people in the U.S. who are in poverty is approaching 1960s levels that led to the national War on Poverty.
There were about 643,000 sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons nationwide in the United States in January 2009. Almost two-thirds stayed in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program and the other third were living on the street, in an abandoned building, or another place not meant for human habitation. About 1.56 million people, or about 0.5% of the U.S. population, used an emergency shelter or a transitional housing program between October 1, 2008 and September 30, 2009.
The most common measure of poverty in the U.S. is the “poverty threshold” set by the U.S. government. This measure recognizes poverty as a lack of those goods and services commonly taken for granted by members of mainstream society. The official threshold is adjusted for inflation using the consumer price index.
The government’s definition of poverty is based on total income received. For example, the poverty level for 2012 was set at a total yearly income of $23,050 for a family of four. Most Americans (58.5%) will spend at least one year below the poverty line at some point between ages 25 and 75. Poverty rates are persistently higher in rural and inner city parts of the country as compared to suburban areas.
In 2013, child poverty reached record high levels in the U.S., with 16.7 million children living in food insecure households. 47 million Americans depend on food banks, more than 30% above 2007 levels. Households headed by single mothers are most likely to be affected. Worst affected are the District of Columbia, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico and Florida, while North Dakota, New Hampshire, Virginia, Minnesota and Massachusetts are the least affected.
Poverty and Food
Eighty-nine percent of the American households had enough food throughout the entire year of 2002, meaning that they had access, at all times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all of the household members. The remaining households did not at least some time during that year. The prevalence of food insecurity rose from 10.7% in 2001 to 11.1% in 2002.
In 2008, eighty-five percent of American households had enough food throughout the entire year.
Factors in poverty
There are numerous factors related to poverty in the United States. Here are some, from different sources. Some of these factors may be disputed.
The conservative American Enterprise Institute has claimed that income and intelligence are related. Charles Murray compared the earnings of 733 full sibling pairs with differing intelligence quotients (IQ’s). He referred to the sample as utopian in that the sampled pairs were raised in families with virtually no illegitimacy, divorce or poverty.
The average earnings of sampled individuals with an IQ of under 75 was $11,000, compared to $16,000 for those with an IQ between 75 and 90, $23,000 for those with an IQ between 90 and 110, $27,000 for those with an IQ between 110 and 125, and $38,000 for those with an IQ above 125.Income has a high correlation with educational levels. In 2007, the median earnings of household headed by individuals with less than a 9th grade education was $20,805 while households headed by high school graduates earned $40,456, households headed by holders of bachelor’s degree earned $77,605, and families headed by individuals with professional degrees earned $100,000.
In many cases poverty is caused by job loss. In 2007, the poverty rate was 21.5% for individuals who were unemployed, but only 2.5% for individuals who were employed full-time.
In 1991, 8.3% of children in two-parent families were likely to live in poverty; 19.6% of children lived with father in single parent family; and 47.1% in single parent family headed by mother.
Income levels vary with age. For example, the median 2009 income for households headed by individuals age 15–24 was only $30,750, but increased to $50,188 for household headed by individuals age 25–34 and $61,083 for household headed by individuals 35–44. Although the reasons are unclear, work experience and additional education may be factors.
Income levels vary along racial/ethnic lines: 21% of all children in the United States live in poverty, about 46% of black children and 40% of Latino children live in poverty. The poverty rate is 9.9% for black married couples and only 30% of black children are born to married couples. Citing the Pew Research Center, The Economist reports that in 2007, 11% of black women aged 30–44 without a high school diploma had a working spouse. The poverty rate for native born and naturalized whites is identical (9.6%). On the other hand, the poverty rate for naturalized blacks is 11.8% compared to 25.1% for native born blacks suggesting race alone does not explain income disparity.
Not all minorities have low incomes. Asian families have higher incomes than all other ethnic groups. For example, the 2005 median income of Asian families was $68,957 compared to the median income of white families of $59,124. Asians, however, report discrimination occurrences more frequently than blacks. Specifically, 31% of Asians reported employment discrimination compared to 26% of blacks in 2005.
The relationship between tax rates and poverty is disputed. A study comparing high tax Scandinavian countries with the U. S. suggests high tax rates are inversely correlated with poverty rates. The poverty rate, however, is low in some low tax countries such as Switzerland. A comparison of poverty rates between states reveals that some low tax states have low poverty rates.
For example, New Hampshire has the lowest poverty rate of any state in the U. S., and has very low taxes (46th among all states). It is true however, that in those instances, both Switzerland and New Hampshire have a very high household income and other measures to levy or offset the lack of taxation. For example, Switzerland has Universal Healthcare and a free system of education for children as young as four years old. New Hampshire has no state income tax or sales tax, but does have the nation’s highest property taxes.
The conservative Heritage Foundation speculates that illegal immigration increases job competition among low wage earners, both native and foreign born. Additionally many first generation immigrants, namely those without a high school diploma, are also living in poverty themselves.
Understating povertyMany sociologists and government officials have argued that poverty in the United States is understated, meaning that there are more households living in actual poverty than there are households below the poverty threshold. A recent NPR (National Public Radio) report states that as much as 30% of Americans have trouble making ends meet and other advocates have made supporting claims that the rate of actual poverty in the US is far higher than that calculated by using the poverty threshold. A study taken in 2012 estimated that roughly 38% of Americans live “paycheck to paycheck.”
Some critics assert that the official U.S. poverty definition is inconsistent with how it is defined by its own citizens and the rest of the world, because the U.S. government considers many citizens statistically impoverished despite their ability to sufficiently meet their basic needs. According to a 2011 paper by poverty expert Robert Rector, of the 43.6 million Americans deemed to be below the poverty level by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2009, the majority had adequate shelter, food, clothing and medical care. In addition, the paper stated that those assessed to be below the poverty line in 2011 have a much higher quality of living than those who were identified by the census 40 years ago as being in poverty.
The federal poverty line also excludes income other than cash income, especially welfare benefits. Thus, if food stamps and public housing were successfully raising the standard of living for poverty stricken individuals, then the poverty line figures would not shift since they do not consider the income equivalents of such entitlements.
Poverty yes, but still take that trip
Regardless of whether poverty is overstated or understated, if one lives in California it is obvious there are a lot of homeless people and the past few years the situation has grown worse. You do not have to go to Los Angeles to see them. Regardless of the areas of poverty and homelessness don’t let this keep you from seeing all the good things in American cities. Make Los Angeles and other big cities a must see and they should be one of your next interesting travel destinations.
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