Southern California Looks To Education To Close Income Gap

A recent economic assessment of Southern California revealed shocking results on the gap between the state's southern rich and poor. A vibrant coastal community has well-educated residents enjoying lavish lifestyles while residents in an inland region are languishing in poverty as education and wages are far lower.

According to Kevin Smith of San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the assessment was a part of the discussion at the fourth annual Economic Recovery & Job Creation Summit in downtown Los Angeles. The event, presented by the Southern California Association of Governments, featured a variety of civic and economic experts who weighed in on everything from education and housing to poverty and economic competitiveness.

"Housing costs have been pushed to extreme levels in coastal areas, so developers have been forced to build inland," Inland Empire economist John Husing said. "That has transferred the least educated and poorest people to our inland areas."

And once they have landed there they're largely "out of sight and out of mind" to a significant share of California's intellectual and political leadership, he said.

3.2 million residents in SCAG's region, which includes Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange, Ventura and Imperial counties, are living in poverty as revealed by Husing's figures. Additionally, 47% of residents in the Inland Empire stopped their education at high school or before, and blunting employment opportunities.

Stringent EPA standards also hamper growth and stiff regulatory standards and international competition slow manufacturing while the large number of homes that are still underwater in the Inland Empire slow construction. Education being geared towards work force development was agreed as an asset, and California's education system needs to become more flexible as Thursday's keynote speaker, Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento noted.

"In California, kids fail to see the relationship between the boring subjects they are being taught and what they might actually do with their lives," he said. "They need a rigorous academic foundation, but it needs to relate to what they are actually going to do."

Community colleges typically allow students to live closer to home and also offer training that can help guide them toward higher paying jobs according to a board member with the Los Angeles Community College District, Mike Eng. Superintendent and president of Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga, Henry D. Shannon, said that his school is looking to better link its programs with real-world job opportunities.

"We have to make room in this economy for working people who are connected to jobs," he said, adding that some programs should be eliminated if they're not proving effective.

The LAEDC presented a "cluster analysis" at last year's SCAG event that highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of the region and each county as the vice president of economic analysis with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., Christine Cooper said.

"We emphasized the need to focus on strengths, and the importance of traded clusters as opposed to population-serving industries," she said.

According to the LAEDC analysis, the strongest identified clusters include entertainment, fashion, aerospace and analytical instruments, international trade and logistics and the biomedical industry.

"Unfortunately, these clusters face the most competitive pressures and are still at risk of leaving," she said.

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