Addressing Employment Inequality in the City of Long Beach

The labor force is composed of people ages 16 and older who are either employed or who are unemployed and actively looking for work. The unemployment rate measures the percentage of people in the labor force who are not employed and searching for work. According to the Federal Reserve, a healthy economy will always have some level of unemployment as people switch jobs and enter and exit the workforce, and a “healthy” unemployment rate is typically considered to be somewhere around 4%.  At the height of the Great Recession in 2009, the national unemployment rate was as high as 10.1%.

The unemployment rate is essential to understanding the level of employment of a community, and thus, a gauge of its economic health; however, it is important to note that it may not represent the total number of unemployed people, as it does not include people who are unemployed but have given up looking for work. Low levels of unemployment are important on a large and small scale – both for the larger American economy and for individual families and communities. Higher levels of employment provide families with more money to spend on goods and services that are essential to their well-being, while also giving more people the opportunity to become employed to provide those goods and services. For this reason, the unemployment rate has been an important measure and central talking point for economists, community advocates, and politicians across the country.

Unemployment Rates in Long Beach City

All-time low unemployment rates for the City of Long Beach made headlines last June in the City’s Economic Development Department’s press release. The press release highlighted the 4.1% unemployment rate for the monthly rate of May 2018, recorded and published by the State Employment Development Department (EDD). 

Nonetheless, taking a look at unemployment rates by census tracts reveals that the City of Long Beach has tracts with some of the highest unemployment rates in all of Los Angeles County, with rates as high as 33.63% in 2016 according to 5-year American Community Survey estimates. The tracts with higher unemployment rates are primarily located in the south central and downtown Long Beach areas of the city. Explore unemployment rates by census tract in the figure below.

Racial Disparity in Income

Median household income levels also vary significantly across the city. Although the 2016 median family income for the City of Long Beach was $55,151 – relatively similar to the county average – income levels varied greatly across the city’s census tracts. In the west side of the city, median household income levels were as low as $11,736. Meanwhile, median household income levels were as high as $122,526 in the east side of the city, a difference more than 10 times the other. Hover over a census tract in the map at right to see more information about its median household income and racial and ethnic composition.


Large wealth or income gaps between different groups often go hand in hand with increases in crime and unemployment and decreases in health and educational attainment (Birdsong, 2015). Such changes will often exacerbate existing inequalities, ultimately stifling growth for cities as a whole. Explore median household income by race in the chart below.

What is the City Doing?

While the stark economic inequalities that exist in Long Beach are troubling, the City has recognized that changes need to be made to address the disparities that exist among communities of color. Last November, then-Vice Mayor Rex Richardson noted that “five times as many Latinos and Native Americans live in high poverty neighborhoods compared to Whites, and that twice as many Black and Latino female adults are working full-time and still living below 150 percent of the poverty level than other adult females.”

Economic Development Blueprint

In spring of 2017, the City adopted the Economic Development Blueprint, the driving force behind a 10-year vision of Long Beach. The Blueprint includes four goals that span from emphasizing inclusivity and providing job opportunities to residents to establishing Long Beach as a leader in education, business expansion, and entrepreneurial growth. Ultimately, the Blueprint strives to make Long Beach one of the world’s most livable, inventive, and inclusive cities.

The Blueprint aims to achieve these goals by focusing on seven core areas. One such area, which is Jobs and Workforce Development, focuses on several objectives, such as reducing the unemployment rate through the alignment of economic development, training, education and community partner efforts. To achieve these objectives, the City has partnered with the Pacific Gateway Workforce Innovation Network (PGWIN). PGWIN connects adults, youth, and businesses by linking job seekers to employment opportunities, giving them the possibility to build their skills and contribute to their community. Additionally, they work to connect skilled workers to businesses, helping them to strengthen their organization.

Another key focus area in the Blueprint is Economic Inclusion. This area strives to increase economic equity for low-income communities and communities of color. In conjunction with the Blueprint’s equity initiatives, the Economic Development Department has hired a Project Manager who will start officially in the fall. The Project Manager will lead the City’s economic and digital inclusion efforts through an equity framework.

Long Beach is very fortunate that we have a low unemployment rate, but we know those economic opportunities aren’t reaching every neighborhood in our city and this effort is going to be part of that.

Economic Development Commission Chair Randal Hernandez

‘Everyone In’: Economic Inclusion Initiative

Last November, the City Council approved a package of initiatives to improve the economic opportunities for all residents called the ‘Everyone In’ Economic Inclusion Initiative. Presented to the City Council by then-Vice Mayor Rex Richardson the initiative targets a number of recommendations from the City’s Economic Development Blueprint, including: (1) providing access to free checking, savings accounts, and financial literacy education to youth participants in Long Beach workforce development programs; (2) conducting an economic equity study on the city; (3) establishing Long Beach as a “Kiva City;” (4) developing an “Everyone In: Economic Inclusion Listening Tour.”

‘Everyone In’: Economic Inclusion Listening Tour

As part of the ‘Everyone In’ Initiative, the City planned the Economic Inclusion Listening Tour, a series of equity-framed focus groups held in March and April 2018. These “community conversations” sought diverse community members’ perspectives on local economic inequities and on creating solutions and initiatives to address these issues. These insights and solutions were summarized into 6 key findings in economic development and 12 community solutions including: Establishing youth workforce development programs and diverse workforce development strategies, developing internships and apprenticeships, providing small business development support and access to affordable childcare. The findings and solutions were published in the Economic Inclusion Listening Tour Summary Report and presented at the ‘Everyone In’: Economic Equity Summit.

‘Everyone In’ Economic Equity Summit and Profile

To continue building the initiative’s momentum, the City hosted the ‘Everyone In’ Economic Equity Summit this past May. Over 200 community members, including local business and community leaders, policymakers, and philanthropic partners, came together for a day-long conversation. The City revealed their listening tour findings centered on innovative approaches for creating an equitable and inclusive environment that will benefit every Long Beach resident. Additionally, PolicyLink, the Office of Equity’s partner, offered preliminary findings of its Economic Equity Profile for the City of Long Beach.

In partnership with PolicyLink’s All-In Cities Initiative, the Office of Equity is conducting an economic equity study focused on identifying the economic challenges and opportunities that the Long Beach community is facing. Findings from the study will help to guide future strategies, support advocacy, and measure progress.

Stay tuned for the full findings, available Fall 2018!

Erika Van Sickel

Erika Van Sickel

Erika received her Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies from UC Santa Barbara then worked at an environmental nonprofit organization in San Diego. She is currently pursuing a master’s in planning at USC with a concentration in design and a certificate in real estate development. Erika is also assisting to investigate rent burden and the resulting sacrifices residents are forced to make. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time outdoors and is a yoga and coffee enthusiast.


Birdsong, Nicholas. The Consequences of Economic Inequality. Seven Pillars Institute for Global Finance and Ethics, February 5. 2015.

Campbell, Doug. Unemployment and the Great Recession. Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, November 2011.

Department of Economic Development. Blueprint for Economic Development. City of Long Beach, April, 2018.

Department of Economic Development. Economic Inclusion Listening Tour Summary Report. City of Long Beach, May, 2018.

Federal Reserve System. What is the lowest level of unemployment that the U.S. economy can sustain? Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. June, 2018.

Inside District 9. Everyone In ~ Connection. Inclusion. Economic Opportunity. Office of Vice Mayor Rex Richardson, May, 2018.

Keisler, John. Long Beach Unemployment Rate Drops to Lowest Point in Nearly 30 Years. Long Beach Department of Economic Development, June, 2018.

LA LISC. ICYMI: Everyone In Economic Equity Summit. Local Initiatives Support Corporation Los Angeles, May, 2018.

Rivera, Stephanie. Vice Mayor Richardson Launches “Everyone In” Initiative, Addressing Economic Inclusion. Long Beach Post, November, 2017.

Romero, Eric. Long Beach Launches First Community-Sponsored Micro-Loan Campaign for Local Small Business. Long Beach Department of Economic Development, May, 2018.

United States Census Bureau. B03002: Hispanic or Latino Origin by Race. American Community Survey, 2012-2016. 

United States Census Bureau. B19013: Median Income in the Past 12 Months (In 2016 Inflation-Adjusted Dollars). American Community Survey, 2012-2016.

United States Census Bureau. B23001: Sex by Age by Employment Status for the Population 16 Years and Older. American Community Survey, 2012-2016. 

United States Census Bureau. S1903: Median Income in the Past 12 Months (In 2016 Inflation-Adjusted Dollars). American Community Survey, 2012-2016. 

Photo Attributions

Cover Photo: Photo courtesy of Istock/Rey_Antonio

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Photo 2: Photo courtesy of Istock/monkeybusinessimages

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