Last Easter weekend, I visited Los Angeles. But I am at a loss to understand what I saw before me.
Crawling into town at an average speed of 30 miles per hour during the last 50 miles of my Lodi to Santa Monica trip, I remember what my Angeleno friends always say, "When you're doing 30 on the freeway, you have no complaints."
As Los Angeles-based author Dan Sheehy told me:
"I am so disgusted with the constant traffic congestion that I avoid driving whenever possible. It is impossible to escape the traffic, the noise, the concrete, and the people in L.A. County. L.A. is no longer paradise. It is a disaster, and this sprawl and congestion is rapidly spreading to other counties in southern California. Ten million people live in L.A. County. Ten million!"
During the three years since Census 2000, nearly 1 million of those 10 million people arrived in Los Angeles. The population growth comes from immigration. Over 40% of Los Angeles residents were born outside the US—mainly from Mexico, Central America and East Asian countries.
Many of these immigrant families are young, poor and have few job skills. That profile has created a two-tier society with one of the largest levels of income disparity between the rich and the poor in the nation. The average median household income for whites is twice that of blacks and Hispanics.
Household income for the newest residents—most of whom are illegal aliens—are as follows:
[VDARE.COM NOTE: Compare these figures to the African-American median family income of $27, 310, and please note that the LA Daily News Chart of "Ethnic Diversity" [September 30, 2003] did not even include native-born whites as a category!]
In the 1950s, a hard working family man could hope to latch onto a factory job and work his way up to foreman or plant manager. But in the 21st Century, only one in seven work in the vanishing manufacturing sector.
Worse, only six in ten adults participate in the labor force in any form. That dismal statistic places Los Angeles 80th in the nation's largest 100 cities in terms of adult employment.
Los Angeles ranks even lower in its home ownership rate—92nd of 100 cities ranked. Much of that ownership comes as a result of multifamily housing –44% of all units.
Some may argue that this is part of a traditional immigration pattern: the parents sacrifice by taking low paying jobs so that their children can get good educations, move up the social ladder and ultimately prosper.
And 50 years ago, when California's K-12 system was top notch, education did provide the first stepping-stone.
But today, the Los Angeles Unified School District is more concerned about providing emotional comfort and physical well being to its students than educating them.
According to the UCLA Health Services Research Center, many of the 722,000 students in the LAUSD are at high risk because of exposure to violence and other traumatic events commonly found in communities with extreme poverty.
LAUSD maintains a child mental health service unit and a district crisis intervention team for traumatized children. Additionally, a staff of 169 psychiatric clinical social workers, clinical psychologists, child psychiatrists and community workers is constantly on call. At 175 elementary and middle school campuses, 250 early behavior intervention counselors provide a range of mental heath services for emotionally needy students.
The mental health staff is culturally diverse. More than 45% of the clinicians are bilingual in Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Chinese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Armenian, Russian, and American Sign Language.
No one is surprised that so many young students are traumatized. The mere thought of going to most LAUSD schools would scare anyone. Gangs rule.
Police officers patrol all 49 high school campuses. Metal detectors, chain link fences and locked gates don't provide adequate security. The smallest slight—even an unintended one by a non-gang member student—can set off fierce fighting that will shut the school down for a day or more.
Kids forced out of their neighborhoods because of school overcrowding are carefully resettled into a "Blue" or "Red" locations depending on whether Crips or Bloods dominate.
Today's Los Angeles is an urban nightmare. Nothing works.
The question is whether the rest of the state can avoid the same fate.
Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.