Fifty Years After the Kerner Commission Report: Place, Housing, and Racial Wealth Inequality in Los Angeles

Los Angeles skyline

In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson formed the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, better known as the Kerner Commission, to help understand and control the surge of black urban uprisings that occurred in 1967.

According to the Commission report, the so-called race problem in America is characterized as a black people problem. The onus for resolving these problems, then, rested primarily on black people’s ability to conform to white cultural norms.

On the fiftieth anniversary of this report, this paper explores how significant racial disparities still persist in Los Angeles.

Key Findings

  • Homeownership, a key driver of wealth, has contributed to great racial disparities in Los Angeles over the past fifty years. In South Los Angeles, for example, median home values for blacks and Hispanics in 1960 were $99,000, while the equivalent value for whites was $116,000. However, by 2015, that gap had increased substantially: While black and Hispanic home values were up to $300,000 and $270,000, respectively, white median home values had skyrocketed to $480,000.
  • Similarly, while median household income (in 2015 dollars) declined for all races from 1960 to 2015 in South Los Angeles, minorities experienced the most significant decreases.
  • The disparities are even greater when considering wealth in the city. In 2014, the median net household wealth for a white family was $255,000; for U.S.-born blacks, their equivalent wealth was a scant $4,000. Both nativity and ethnicity play a substantial role, as the chart below details: