Black Life in Los Angeles

In short, the landscape onto which COVID-19 landed was structurally contoured by anti-Black racism. Black Angelenos had long been plagued by lagging income and disproportionate unemployment. Black wealth and savings – the necessary cushions for an emergency – had been stripped by years of discriminatory real estate practices, deindustrialization, and the racial disparate impact of the Great Recession’s foreclosure crisis. Communities had deconcentrated, partly driven away by violence and economic distress and in more recent years by gentrification pressures, with a sense that political visibility was also on the decline. Distrust of official authorities, the result of violent over-policing, was rampant.

“. . . and now I’m having some downtime to really rethink them along with all that is coming to the fore with realities of injustice and systems of injustice, so that we can rethink how we enter in to never a normal of that. Again, whatever that was because it was benefiting no one.”
Focus Group Participant

Impacts of COVID-19 on Black Life in Los Angeles

The ongoing racial disparities constituted a set of pre-existing conditions that made Black Angelenos vulnerable to a global pandemic and particularly vulnerable to the consequent national response
(or non-response) to the crisis. As a result, it is little wonder that the age-adjusted death rates from COVID-19 for Black Angelenos have been double that for white Angelenos. And while some want to attribute the pattern of health issues, such as diabetes and hyper-tension, those conditions are themselves a result of living and working conditions that include poverty, poor food quality, lack of park access, and job characteristics that reflect patterns of structural racism (Walker, Strom Williams, and Egede 2016; Dr. D. R. Williams 2020; Yancy 2020). COVID-19, in short, has been a wake-up call for many observers about the role of race and racism in public health.

Indeed, Black people are also far more present than whites (and about as much as Latinos) in the essential work that also involves close contact with the public, clearly adding to health risk. As noted above, homelessness is its own epidemic, with Black people constituting a third of Los Angeles County’s homeless population even though they are only eight percent of the County population (LAHSA 2020). And the over- representation in the incarcerated population has also left many at risk of exposures in that system – or at risk of bringing home the disease as the County undertook an effort to shrink the jail population.

In addition, because of the geographic dispersion we noted above [LINK to see full section], there is a much higher likelihood that families will be separated and elders will be living alone. This creates the conditions for a very isolated Black senior population who will also need access to the kind of care economy that they may not be able to afford.

Black people have been fighting this fight, and it is time for Los Angeles County to invest in its Black communities.

Even for full-time year-round workers, disparities exist: Black Angelenos are roughly twice as likely as white Angelenos to have a job paying less than $15 an hour

  • 27% 27%


In Los Angeles County, more Black seniors (36 percent) are living alone (without family members and not in assisted living) than any other group.

  • 36% 36%

One-third of those killed in police shootings in 2019 were Black, well above the nine percent figure for the Black share of the city’s population

  • 90% 90%

15 Policy Recommendations That Support Black Life in L.A.

The report puts forward 15 recommendations for policy and practical action.

Codify and implement the Breathe Act

De-criminalize and address poverty and homelessness.

Invest in the safety and education of Black students and students of color.

Stop discriminatory policing and continue de-incarceration.

Address the systematic anti-Black racism in healthcare.

Destigmatize mental health and invest in mental health infrastructure.

Support community-based health systems, particularly in this crisis.

Invest in a care economy and social service sector

Create affordable housing and opportunities for homeownership

Create access to quality jobs that prioritize Black workers’ and small business owners’ growth and leadership

Apply a racial equity lens to all budget decisions.

Support Black immigrants.

Provide philanthropic support for Black-led organizations.

Provide philanthropic and other support to displaced Black communities.

Support work that tackles anti-Black racism.

Our Streets Our Stories

“Reparations. We need reparations, it only makes perfect sense for our healing. In total, we need reparations, we need police reform. So, the culture of the police needs total reformation. We need housing to be a human right. We need for all the social service organizations to have a standard way of serving, whether it be them looking at their culture within the organization and how they serve their staff and using the model of allowing their clients to be a part of designing of their programs and services. So, allowing those who are being impacted by the social services to have some say in the services that are being designed and implemented in communities, we need a lot more spaces of conversations for healing, for validation, for what folks are experiencing.”

Focus Group Participant