Los Angeles for many people evokes scenes of Hollywood glamour and a luxurious life by the beach. But millions of residents know the other L.A., where work does not even guarantee decent pay and good health care, let alone SUVs and swimming pools.
Indeed, one in four workers in Los Angeles County is poor, defined in this report as qualifying for government assistance. Over one million Angelenos were among the working poor in the late 1990s (an average of 1997 and 1999 survey data): janitors, maids, teachers, health practitioners, sewing machine operators, actors, parks and recreation workers, parking lot attendants. While overall employment in Los Angeles increased by only 2 percent during the 1990s, the number of working poor, as defined in this report, increased by 34 percent. (In this report, “Los Angeles” refers to the County unless otherwise indicated.)
In spite of these trends—or perhaps because of them—Los Angeles has generated some of the most innovative responses to the problem of low-wage work and working poverty. Community-based organizations are exposing illegal working conditions at restaurants in Koreatown; a revived labor movement organized 90,000 new members in 1999 alone; a local coalition of community groups, clergy and labor unions worked to pass a living wage law for the City of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County. If Los Angeles epitomizes the problem of working poverty more than any other metropolitan area in the United States, it also points us towards solutions for the 21st century.