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L.A. County facing growing poverty, erosion of middle class, United Way report says

February 9, 2010 |  9:57 am

Los Angeles County faces a poverty crisis and an erosion of the middle class that could worsen under the current economic downturn, according to a report by the United Way.

The county's poverty rate is now higher than the rest of the nation's, according to the report, which surveyed the county's economic situation in 2009. More than 1.47 million people, or 15% of the county's population,  live on an income of $22,000 a year for a family of four, the report says.  The national average is 13%.

The full report will be available Tuesday at 3 p.m. at the United Way of Greater Los Angeles' website.

Nearly four in 10 people in L.A. County suffer from extreme poverty, the report says; those people live on less than $5,400 a year for a single person or about $11,000 for a family of four.

The jobless rate had soared to 12.3% by early 2009, wiping out all job growth from the previous decade, the report states. Wages remained stagnant and did not keep up with housing costs.

The middle class also felt the pinch, the report says. Only 1% of salaried workers saw significant income growth, while the average worker’s pay fell nearly $2 an  hour.

The United Way survey also said the ranks of the working poor swelled in 2009. Defined as families of four making less than $44,000 a year, that group in Los Angeles County is now 7.5% greater than the national average.

“One of the things that keeps me optimistic in this downturn is that it has created a sense of urgency for us to accelerate in the areas that need improvement,” said Elise Buik, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Los Angeles, which conducted the study. “My hope is that we can find a way for business, labor, philanthropy and government to come together in areas of education reform, jobs and housing so our middle class doesn’t fall further behind.”

-- Ching-Ching Ni

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