South Los Angeles has a rich history of culture, social cohesion, and resilience. However, the region has also faced economic disinvestment and decades of racist policies targeting Black Angelenos. As a result, South LA has seen fewer jobs and opportunities in recent decades, which was further exacerbated by the unequal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact of the virus, which was felt more acutely by disadvantaged communities of color, presents unique challenges for the community of South LA, but it also presents an opportunity. Our goal is to provide insight into how renewed resources, investment, and collective action can help South LA not only recover from the devastating impacts of the pandemic, but also return to a position of strength and prosperity beyond its pre-pandemic state.
A vibrant cultural scene built around Central Avenue created a bustling South LA in the 20th century, despite racist housing policies and policing that forced Black Angelenos into segregated areas. Through impactful events and trends like the 1965 Watts uprising, the development of national highways, deindustrialization, the 1992 Rodney King uprising, and redistricting, South LA has continued to adapt to a changing world. Unfortunately, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were not felt by all people equally, and South LA was especially struck, with higher case rates and death rates than the rest of LA County over the course of the pandemic. While vaccine rates have risen to nearly 70% of residents over the age of 12 in South LA, they still lag behind the County’s overall rate of nearly 80%, compounding the pandemic’s challenges and slowing the area’s recovery.
In addition to the direct health impacts of the pandemic, this report also examines the social determinants of health, explored in five key areas. Health Care Access and Quality discusses the risk factors associated with experiencing racism, cultural bias in health care, and living in highly urban environments. There is also a gap in access to care in the South LA area, with fewer facilities per resident. In the Social Community Context, there are also barriers to care faced by the South LA immigrant community, who may struggle to communicate due to language barriers or may not be eligible to receive certain public benefits. Prior to the pandemic, South LA was already facing challenges in Economic Stability, as the median household income in the area was significantly lower than the LA County average. The industries employing many South LA residents also faced the highest number of COVID cases in LA County and the highest rates of unemployment claims. Further, it is possible that, without the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program loans, many South LA businesses would not have survived the pandemic. Similarly, South LA was already facing a crisis in affordable housing before the pandemic. Neighborhood and Built Environment examines changes in housing affordability and homelessness as a result of the pandemic, including rising home values and instances of tenant harassment in South LA. Lastly, remote learning challenges and school closures exacerbated existing disparities in Education Access and Quality.
These challenges call for a response beyond simply returning to a pre-pandemic state. An intentional focus on improving pandemic recovery while removing existing barriers to prosperity and equity is needed. In order to achieve equitable improvements in resourcing for South LA, this report makes several recommendations.