01.10.11

Inequality and Poverty in Pasadena

Posted in Census, Stumble and Fail at 9:55 am by George Smith

UPDATED

Last week I mentioned once again that doing census work allowed one to see the truly radical poverty in Pasadena.

This in connection with Ted Nugent’s voicing of the usual far right cant that poor people are so because they are unproductive and lazy. It is an argument that seeks to reset any discussion on poverty and inequality by equating it with flaws in character.

Canvasing the downtown apartment complexes and housing developments off Colorado showed the wealthy and the very poor in Pasadena living side by side.

Here, as in many other places I would imagine, it is easy to overlook the bottom. In Pasadena much of it is hidden away in apartment complexes in fairly nice neighborhoods. Or stowed out of sight and mind in what look like nice big houses from the Forties and Fifties.

A step inside, however, always showed owners had subdivided these into tiny claustrophobic rooms, turning them into flophouses for the servant class.

None of this happened overnight. It is a consequence of the economic system that’s been in place in the United States over at least the last decade. In Pasadena, inequality and poverty collide with some of the highest rents and property values in the country.

The wealthy — the haves — had radically pushed up the value of land in Pasadena as part of the conversion of the city to as a go-to place (think Old Town on weeknights and weekends) in southern California and the expansion of the mansion district around the Rose Bowl. During the last five years, princely condo projects were started and completed along Colorado and Lake — actually almost everywhere — in bids to attract the young and upper middle class.

Much of the condo space around Hudson and Locust just on the south side of the 210 freeway, for example, is living space owned or administered by Oakwood Corporate Housing.

Oakwood is a vast empire, started by Howard Ruby. Some eyewash at National Public Radio is here where he’s touted as an environmentalist and photographer.

The Oakwood properties I canvased furnished temporary housing to a upper and upper middle corporate servant class. For lack of a better classification I thought of them as a fancy-pants type of migrant worker.

Many did not respond to their census questionnaires because they viewed themselves as temporary residents. For example, they spent most of their days flying here and there across the country. Think George Clooney in “Up In the Air.”

If one questioned a neighbor in an effort to gain information about their address, for instance, a common response was that such people were not home much because of ‘travel.’

Or the corporate migrant worker could be one who had been sent to southern California to do some semi-long term function by their masters.

And what they considered to be their permanent home — and place where the rest of the family lived — was elsewhere.

In any case, the census was required to categorize these addresses. And we had different line descriptions for varieties of temporary residence and procedures for enumerating their inhabitants.

These were the people who had not been hit quite as hard by the Great Recession. They appeared to still be working while those in the local service class hunkering in the dingier complexes or the flophouses that had once been fine Pasadena middle class homes had been really taking it in the shorts for some time.

“Would it surprise you to learn that Pasadena is the most unequal city in California?” is the question opening a recent 2007 article from the Pasadena Weekly.

“That’s one of the interesting facts now available from the recent release of 2006 data by the US Census Bureau.”

An interesting fact? Radical inequality is an “interesting fact”? [Shakes head.]

Keep in mind this was from 2007, a consequence of 2006 data. In fairness, things may still have seemed almost peachy. The Great Recession had not yet arrived.

I worked the 2010 Decennial census. And things aren’t better as a result of the Great Recession. In fact, they are much worse.

The weekly newspaper broke out some statistics from 2006:

In Pasadena, the richest one-fifth of Pasadena households — those with incomes over $123,641 — has over half (54.2 percent) of the income earned by city residents. The wealthiest 5 percent — those with household incomes above $255,106 — have over one-quarter (25.1 percent) of the income. Pasadena has a higher concentration of income among the richest five percent than the United States and California (both 22.1 percent) and Los Angeles County (23.6 percent).

In contrast, the poorest one-fifth of Pasadena households — those with incomes below $21,277 — combined have only 2.8 percent of residents’ income. Those in the next poorest one-fifth — those with household incomes between $21,277 and $46,375 — bring home only 7.6 percent of Pasadena’s incomes.

If we looked at wealth (stocks, bonds and other holdings) instead of income, the concentration at the top of the economic pyramid would be even more skewed.

Rising inequality and a skewed economy that only benefits the very wealthy leads to inefficiency and unpleasant death spirals. In Pasadena it’s obvious to everyone that the working people who provide the finery in the city’s restaurants, nice hotels and play places cannot afford to live here.

As a consequence they must either drive in from some much cheaper place of urban squalor or try to carve out a place to sleep with a bunch of roommates. Or rent a big closet-sized room rented out for still way too much in one of the previously referred to flophouses.

Reported the PWeekly:

Gentrification may be good for a handful of developers, but it isn’t good for most residents or for the city’s business climate. As the new census data suggest, Pasadena housing costs are skyrocketing beyond what most working families — including schoolteachers, nurses and nurses’ aides, bus drivers, security guards, secretaries, janitors, child care providers, retail clerks, computer programmers, lab assistants and others — can afford.

Rising rents and home prices are undermining our city’s economic, social and civic fabric. Our public schools are losing children. Many religious congregations are losing members. Youth soccer and baseball leagues, and other community initiatives, are losing volunteers.

Keep in mind, again, it’s census data from 2006.

Rising rents and home prices did undermine the city’s economic fabric and this has been compounded by the Great Recession. As a consequence lots of small businesses failed in Pasadena. And there is now no shortage of empty office space, rooms or housing. By example, one ritzy condo complex on Lake near the OneWest Bank has been conspicuously empty for the last two years.

If one has been at all observant over the last couple of years when walking or driving the city’s streets, one saw the evidence in cratered businesses, must-sell-everything signs, and turnover in store-fronts.

Paradoxically, prices still remain too high. Which has led to the phenomenon of owners who are care-taking, waiting around for things to tick upward again.

Previously, on the census in Pasadena — here. (Also see the tab at right.)

There is some irony in the fact that only an English news agency — not a local American one — was interested in a first-hand story from it.

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