July 13, 2005

Los Angeles blacks still fare poorly, study shows

By Alexandria Sage

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Blacks in America's second-largest
city fare the worst among all major races in education, health,
economics, housing and criminal justice, according to a study
released on Wednesday.

"The State of Black Los Angeles," prepared by the United
Way and the Urban League of Los Angeles, said the promise of
the American Dream was still out of reach for many blacks in
the city.

"At the heart of this shortfall is a fundamental issue of
equality -- not simply equality as a right but equality as a
reality and practice," it said.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was joined by
religious and community leaders, including Police Chief William
Bratton, at a downtown panel to voice concern at the sobering
picture presented in the study.

The study found that nearly half of black L.A. high school
students don't graduate within four years, that the median
household income for blacks is more than $20,000 below that of
white families and that the 14 percent black unemployment rate
is more than double that for whites and Asians.

"I see it as a call to action. I see it as a challenge,"
said Villaraigosa, the city's first Latino mayor in more than
100 years. "Because a great city cannot be that great shining
city with so many people left behind."

Blacks, who make up 10 percent of the population of Los
Angeles County, scored the lowest on an "equality index," which
measures discrepancies in conditions for individual races.

The county's population is about 9.8 million, of whom 3.8
million live in the City of Los Angeles, 2003 census figures

Measured against a benchmark of 1.00 for whites, blacks
scored .69, as compared to .71 for Latinos and .98 for Asians.
The only area in which blacks scored higher than all other
races was in civic engagement, which includes voter
participation, military service and English fluency.

Some panelists spoke of a sense of "deja vu" at the
report's findings which come 40 years after the city's deadly
1965 Watts riots.

The report's statistics -- for example, that more than 75
percent of black fourth-graders cannot read proficiently, a
number that increases to 83 percent by 11th grade -- "put a
chill in your spine," Villaraigosa said.

"If we can't read or write, if we don't have the access to
computers and textbooks, we won't be able to compete," he said.

Bratton, whose department has struggled to fend off
criticism that it unfairly targets minorities, called improved
public safety the catalyst that would spur change in other

"You cannot educate your child if they live in fear in
their schools and their streets," Bratton said. "You cannot
have economic investment in neighborhoods where crime is out of

Half of all murder victims in the county are black, Bratton
said, and 32 percent of all black males born in 2001 would end
up in prison, a statistic he called "horrifying."

Other findings in the report include:

- Blacks have the highest rate of homelessness,
representing more than 30 percent of the total homeless

- The average jail sentence for blacks for violent offenses
is 46 months, compared to 13 months for whites.

- Blacks have the highest overall death rate, with deaths
from homicide and HIV and AIDS more than three times higher
than other groups.