High cost of living dampens L.A. County residents’ attitudes
The LABarometer survey will regularly engage with the same group of Los Angeles County residents over time, tracking how their individual lives change in the face of L.A.’s dynamic environment. (Image source: iStock.)

High cost of living dampens L.A. County residents’ attitudes

Los Angeles is known for sunshine, entertainment and beaches, but a new survey by USC Dornsife scientists shows that residents in the Southland are less satisfied with their lives than the rest of the country. [6 min read]
ByEmily Gersema

Los Angeles County residents are generally less satisfied with their lives and less optimistic about the economy than people living elsewhere in the United States, according to the new USC Dornsife-Union Bank LABarometer survey released today by the Center for Economic and Social Research (CESR) at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

“Our first survey results show a resounding theme, which is that the high cost of living in Los Angeles largely dampens residents’ views on a range of measures, from life satisfaction to their economic outlook,” said Kyla Thomas, director of LABarometer and a USC Dornsife CESR sociologist.

Overall, Angelenos are slightly more satisfied than dissatisfied with their lives, with an average life satisfaction score of 4.4 on a scale of 1 (strong dissatisfaction) to 7 (strong satisfaction). That’s on par with Californians’ average level of satisfaction. 

However, Angelenos are slightly more dissatisfied with their lives compared to most Americans. The average national score is 4.6.

Personal finances are one of the most important markers for life satisfaction in L.A. County, the scientists found. Angelenos also are the least satisfied with their personal finances compared to family life, their job, their social lives, their health, free time and self-esteem. Combined, the results suggest that dissatisfaction with personal finances may be a key reason that Angelenos report lower life satisfaction than other Americans. 

“We find that residents who are less satisfied with their financial situation tend to be less satisfied with their lives overall,” Thomas said.

Sponsored by Union Bank, LABarometer is the first survey of its kind to regularly engage with the same group of Los Angeles County residents over time, tracking how their individual lives change in the face of L.A.’s dynamic environment. The survey invites residents each quarter to answer questions on key issues such as transportation, the economy and housing. The results are intended to inform decision-makers, enabling them to monitor shifts in social conditions and attitudes so that they may gauge the success of changes in policies and services.

 The first survey, conducted from July 19 through Sept. 30, asked 1,700 L.A. County residents a series of questions about life satisfaction, housing circumstances and plans, neighborhood satisfaction, crime and social connectedness. The survey, which had a 75% response rate, also included a set of questions that track their optimism about individual finances and the economy.

The results show that income levels appear to affect attitudes.

L.A. County has ample job opportunities and its ports are buzzing with trade. However, Angelenos are less optimistic about the economy and business than their fellow Californians. They’re even more pessimistic than the average American.


L.A. County is known for devilishly high housing prices. However, residents here appear to be willing, to a certain degree, to spend a greater proportion of their income on rent than most Americans say they would ever consider. 

L.A.: Stay or go? 

Over the next year, most Angelenos (more than 90%) say they plan to stick around the L.A. area. However, 7% are looking to leave the county entirely.

“We found that the majority of residents are satisfied with the neighborhoods where they live,” said Thomas. “We also find that neighborhood satisfaction depends less on housing costs and more on whether residents trust their neighbors and feel their neighborhood is safe and clean.”

What makes people move?

“While the high cost of living in L.A. doesn’t seem to affect how residents feel about their neighborhoods, it does affect whether or not they stay in them. Affordability is the number one reason why nearly 80% of residents plan to stay in their current housing and it is the number one reason why more than 20% plan to move or leave L.A. altogether.”

What makes people stay?

One partnership of many

LABarometer is the first exemplar of a bold and expanding initiative by USC Dornsife to connect government agencies, private companies, industry groups and nonprofit organizations to USC Dornsife’s vast network of scholars to tackle particularly difficult issues affecting society. Union Bank funds the survey.

“We have a vast brain trust of more than 900 researchers at USC Dornsife alone, and we believe that they can provide expertise to help solve many of the challenges we face today,” said Kate Weber, executive director of the College’s Academy in the Public Square initiative. “LABarometer represents our first project for this initiative, thanks to the generosity of our partners at Union Bank.” 

“We’re honored to support the USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research on this important research over the next 10 years,” said Pierre P. Habis, head of consumer banking for Union Bank. “The insights gained from the LA Barometer on important issues like affordability, livability, sustainability and mobility will be vital for policymakers and residents as they work to improve well-being throughout Los Angeles.”

About LABarometer

LABarometer is a quarterly, internet-based survey of 1,700 randomly selected Los Angeles County residents, designed and administered by the USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research at the University of Southern California. The survey monitors social conditions and attitudes in L.A. County, with a focus on four key issues: livability, affordability/prosperity, mobility, and sustainability/resiliency. By following the same residents over time, LABarometer aims to capture trends and shifts in residents’ circumstances and attitudes, allowing decision-makers in the public and private sectors to track progress on key social and economic outcomes and develop solutions to address the evolving needs of county residents. LABarometer is made possible by the financial support of Union Bank.


A sample of 1,274 adults living in Los Angeles County participated in the county module from July 19 through Sept. 30. A sample of 5,547 adults living throughout the United States, including 930 adults living in L.A. County and 827 adults living elsewhere in California, participated in the survey’s national module from Aug. 12 through Sept. 8. All LABarometer data are made publicly available through this website: https://cesr.usc.edu/labarometer. CESR reports results that are statistically significant at a confidence level of 95%.

LABarometer is a subpanel of the Understanding America Study (UAS), a national internet panel managed by the USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research. The survey was conducted in respondents’ choice of English or Spanish. Internet-connected tablets were provided to respondents without internet access.

For a complete description of the LABarometer data, methods and findings, read the full Livability Report online at https://cesr.usc.edu/labarometer. The report will go live on the website at 9 a.m. PT on Oct. 16.

More information

Union Bank is a full-service bank with a rich history of investing in its clients, communities and employees throughout the West Coast for more than 150 years. Union Bank provides a wide range of personal and business banking products as well as wealth management services. With more than 350 branches in California, Oregon and Washington, Union Bank remains committed to serving the needs of its local communities. As a member of the Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG), one of the world’s largest financial institutions, Union Bank holds its clients’ best interests to heart and remains committed to investing in their success.