Perspectives of business and political leaders
Despite one of the most expansive economic booms in L.A. history, almost 20 percent of Angelenos live at or below the poverty level. The Business Journal asked some prominent Angelenos for their thoughts about the disparity between L.A.’s haves and have-nots.
Los Angeles County Supervisor
The failure of the educational system contributes to the disparity between the haves and have-nots in Los Angeles. It’s vital to ensure top-level education and (thus) opportunities to excel in society. Our education system has not prepared our students, and we’re graduating students without the ability to read, write and be competitive. It’s important to reform education and provide competition and excellence to all of the communities in the county and state. Without education, you’re doomed to failure. We need to reform the system and provide freedom of choice.
L.A. City Councilwoman
One of the challenges in elective office is to see that there are ways to channel market forces to help more people instead of exacerbating the gap. Government is stuck with the balancing act of trying to be fair. Several years ago when the mayor was yammering about running government like a business, one of our Republican representatives said government is not a business, government has to be fair. I keep that quote on my computer.
I think that’s the reason we have regulations that make sure the market doesn’t exclude people. When someone wants approval from the city to build high-income housing, we ask them as a condition to include some housing for much lower-income people. We’ve managed to create housing units for people of much more modest means.
Chairman, Chief Executive
Kaufman & Broad Home Corp.
Today’s booming economy makes it possible for all Angelenos to live out the American dream. With unemployment at record lows, everyone who wants to work can find an employer willing to give them the opportunity and training to do so. Companies like Kaufman & Broad are (providing) quality homes for less than $110,000 in the Antelope Valley, where young people can raise their families in communities and build equity for the future. For those of us who have enjoyed great success in our lives and careers, I feel it’s important to reach out to those less fortunate and help them see the possibilities.
Yvonne Brathwaite Burke
I believe the marketplace is definitely contributing to the growing disparity between the haves and have-nots. This is especially evident from the county’s point of view, whether the economic times are good or bad. In bad times, of course, we have more people on welfare. But in these good economic times, the county is feeling the pressure because of the increasing number of working poor that is, the number of people with part-time and/or low-paying jobs. This is a new phenomenon, something we haven’t experienced before during economic expansion. What we’re seeing now is an expanding workforce that has no benefits and must look to the county for health care and other services.
L.A. City Councilman
The most important element to recognize in addressing the issue is quality of education. That’s the key. I’m the son of immigrants, the product of working poor. Yes it can be done. Unfortunately, I’m the exception and not the rule. Education is important, and the factors in the success of a child’s educational endeavors include parental involvement and support. I saw in one (part of the Business Journal series on the poor) many examples of working poor, such as gardeners and people who work in the hotel industry. The recurring theme you see is that people who come from other areas to work here have an impact on the labor pool and wages, both high and low. There’s lots of flux in and out, and that impacts our area economically.
With California’s unemployment rate at historic lows, and our economy moving forward, there are substantial opportunities for almost everybody to earn a better income and life. Disparities typically are driven by factors like education, not the market itself. As technology becomes an even more dominant part of California’s and L.A.’s economies, a good education is an essential prerequisite to participate in this success. We should use our region’s current economic strength to support and improve our educational system.