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Demographic Change from Lakewood to Downtown L.A.

Apartment building under construction
Support Provided By
USC Price Center

Published in partnership with the USC Price Center for Social Innovation in support of the Neighborhood Data for Social Change platform (NDSC): The platform is a free, publicly available online data resource that provides reliable, aggregated data at the city, neighborhood, and census tract level. The mission of the USC Price Center for Social Innovation is to develop ideas and illuminate strategies to improve the quality of life for people in low-income urban communities.

The ever-evolving demographics of Los Angeles County have been well documented by scholars, historians, ethnographers, and of course, the media. Los Angeles is one of the most diverse regions in the country, with approximately 185 languages spoken across Little Tokyo, Boyle Heights, Little Armenia, Koreatown, Pico Union, and all the other pockets of ethnic concentrations across the metro area. More than half of LA residents speak a language other than English at home, and the region is home to 1 million unauthorized individuals - the largest concentration in the country. 60% of children in Los Angeles County have at least one foreign-born parent, and one out of every six students in LAUSD has a parent that is an unauthorized immigrant. 

While immigration in Los Angeles County has been declining since its peak in 1990, the diversity of languages and ethnic backgrounds continue to shape the cultural landscape of our region. Millennials - the most racially diverse generation of adults ever - are now driving the local economy, contributing to the workforce, buying houses, and raising children in culturally dynamic neighborhoods across LA County.

So what does the region’s modern day cosmopolitanism look like? How have ethnically concentrated pockets of the county evolved, and how do demographic changes continue to shape our social and economic identity? Two very different neighborhoods –Lakewood and Downtown L.A. – offer glimpses into this demographic narrative.


The city of Lakewood, which borders Long Beach, Cerritos, Bellflower, and Paramount, developed as a planned post-WWII suburban community. After the war, homes sprung up in Lakewood at a record rate of 40-60 homes per day – on average, a new home every 7.5 minutes. By 1960, Lakewood had just over 67,000 residents, 99% of whom were white. According to the 2015 5-year American Community Survey, Lakewood is now only 37% white, down from 43% in the 2009 5-year survey. The Hispanic population in Lakewood has been rising over the last decade, while the Black and Asian populations have remained relatively stable. Lakewood is currently 34% Hispanic, up from 29% in the 2009 survey period.

Tens of thousands of prospective buyers had walked through the model homes of Lakewood Park by the end of 1950. Many of them lined up to put a down payment to buy a home of their own.

Throughout these demographic changes, Lakewood has remained a very stable upper-middle class neighborhood, with a median household income of $75,757. Walk around the suburban community, and you’ll see happy families, good public schools, and frequent trips to the Lakewood Mall. The reality of this community wholly rejects persistent and racially-loaded narratives that associate communities of color with declining property values and poor quality of life.

Downtown L.A.

Downtown L.A. tells a very different story of demographic change in Los Angeles. The neighborhood is one of the most racially diverse in the county, home to a significant proportion of white, Black, Hispanic and Asian populations. Despite this diversity, Downtown L.A.’s ethnic makeup has radically evolved over the past five years. Since the 2010 survey period, there has been a 36% increase in the white population and a corresponding 17% and 18% decrease in the Black and Hispanic populations, respectively. This comes as Downtown L.A.’s overall population has increased by over 9,000 people - almost 30% - in the same time period. The continued population increase in the Downtown L.A. neighborhood has brought many new events and developments to the area, including the construction and expansion of L.A. Live, Fig at 7th and the Bloc. In fact, Downtown Los Angeles has not experienced this much construction and development in almost a century.

Grand Central Market
November 25, 2016: Crowds flock to the Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles to shop for groceries and eat lunch at the popular marketplace.

Changing demographics and development are also having an impact on incomes in the Downtown L.A. neighborhood. In the 2010 reporting period, the median household income was $22,338 - less than half of the county average.  By the 2015 reporting period, median incomes rose to $38,182 - a 70% increase. Troublingly, the increase in median income has not been evenly distributed.  For example, in the area neighboring the Staples Center and L.A. Live, the median income in the 2015 reporting period was $69,077. In contrast, the area of Downtown L.A. encompassing a large part of Skid Row had a median income of only $10,484. 

Given the widening gap in Downtown L.A.’s income inequality, there is also concern about rising rents for longtime Downtown L.A. residents. The median rent has increased from just $784 in the 2010 reporting period to $1,172 in the 2015 period - representing a change of almost 50% in 5 years.  This massive increase makes housing unaffordable for many residents living in less wealthy areas of Downtown L.A.’s changing landscape.

As L.A. knows all too well, demographic changes bring complex developments to all neighborhoods. New businesses emerge, economies evolve, and food, arts, and culture become richer and more vibrant. But rental prices also go up and formerly affordable neighborhoods become unlivable for too many longtime residents. By exploring demographic changes at the neighborhood level, we are able to better identify these opportunities and challenges, and more effectively design sustainable policies that ensure the equitable evolution of our communities.


Borland, Kelsi Maree. This is the Age of Demographic Shifts. March 2017.

City of Lakewood. The Lakewood Story: Chapter 2.

Khouri, Andrew. Downtown Los Angeles Hasn't Seen This Much Construction Since the 1920s. Los Angeles Times. January 2017.

Myers, Dowell and Pitkin, John. The Generational Future of Los Angeles: Projections to 2030 and Comparisons to Recent Decades. Sol Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California. March 2013.

Read, Anna. Lakewood, California: Postwar Suburbia in the 21st Century. May 2009.

U.S. Census Bureau.  Census Bureau Reports at Least 350 Languages Spoken in U.S. Homes. November 2015.

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