Another cautionary tale in using two percentages nearly 20 years apart to make a point about economic growth. Over the weekend I came across a story that said the jobless rate in the South L.A. community of Westmont was 24 percent, compared with 17 percent in 1992. "Blacks in South L.A. have a bleaker jobs picture than in 1992," was the headline over the LAT piece. Well, that's true, as far as it goes. But left out was the stuff that happened in between: The end of a recession, several years of above-average growth, another recession, another burst of growth, the recent Great Recession, and finally the halting recovery. All these inflections resulted in substantial swings of the Westmont unemployment rate. Take a look:
Last month the jobless rate fell slightly, to 23.2 percent, and it's a good bet we'll see further declines in the coming months. Point is, these numbers tend to fluctuate, depending on what's going on with the rest of the national economy. So it would be misleading to imply that South L.A.'s economy has only gotten worse since the riots. As with the rest of L.A., it's gotten better, then worse, then better, then worse, then slightly better. That's how economies work. And the riots really didn't have much to do with it, one way or another. One other note worth mentioning: For years, the unemployment rate in South L.A. has been roughly twice that of L.A. County. So when Westmont had a jobless rate of 10.2 percent in 2006, the county was at an unusually low 4.8 percent. Then again, this gap had been in place well before 1992, reflecting the kind of chronic long-term problems that make change so difficult.