You are on page 1of 1

PREFACE

L. A. one in two adults lacks any form of health insurance. Less th an one-third of private employers in California as a whole, and even less in Los Angeles County, pay the full cost of their w orkers' health insurance premiums. As a result, in 1995, 1999, and again in 2002, the supervisors almost closed USC-County General Hospital itself: a 'Chernobyl-like' m eltdow n of health care only narrow ly avoided by desperate m easures at the last m inute, including an em ergency parcel tax and a grudging federal bailout. A lthough USC-County is still open, sixteen vital com m unity health clinics have been closed, as has the ER at scandal-plagued M artin Luther King General in Willowbrook. The working poor in Los Angeles, in conse­ quence, have only marginally better access to health care th an they might possess in Mexico City or Rio de Janeiro. The County health crisis - still just a step away from system breakdow n and catastrophe - is emblematic of the larger deficit of investm ent in a hum ane social safety net. Los Angeles, as it did in 1990, continues to house the poor in the street (an estim ated 90,000 dow ntow n and 236,000 homeless in the County), and the m entally ill in jails. The so-called civic 'recovery' of the mid-1990s and the ensuing dotcom boom years did disappointingly little to reduce the mass of poverty in the city; indeed, according to the L.A. Coalition to End Hunger and Homelessness, the num ber of people living in 'high poverty' in Los Angeles doubled during the 1990s. Los Angeles, according to United Way, rem ains 'the nation's poverty capital' w ith the largest num ber of poor of any m etropolitan area. The City's family poverty rate is double the national average, and an amazing 59 per cent of students in public schools qualify for free or reduced-price lunch programs. (More broadly, the L.A .-R iverside-0range County area has the highest percentage of families in poverty and the lowest percentage of high school graduates of the nation's fourteen largest m etropolitan areas.) Most of the poor, or at least poor parents, are in the labor force, and the persistence of such high levels of poverty through the last decade is evidence of labor m arkets that provide few footholds for occupational or income mobility. In part, this is the result of the educational shortfall in the labor force: an extraordinary 78 per cent of adults in Los Angeles County are not college graduates, and 1.8 million are illiterate. Adult education, in other words, is an enorm ous, largely u nm et public need (as well as the vital precondition to reskilling and economic mobility). M eanwhile, Los Angeles Unified School District continues its slow decline: two-fifths of current high school students do not graduate w ith their class. The Latino graduation rate is the worst: only 53 per cent. But wages in California over the last generation have increased only for workers w ith a college degree: those w ith high school or less have lost

xiii