Colorful composite image contains a multitude of landmarks, symbols and activities prevalent in Southern California’s Inland Empire with a line-art map of the area overlaid.
The evolving community in Southern California’s vibrant and economically important Inland Empire faces significant challenges. (Composite: Letty Avila. Image source: iStock; Bing Image Generator.)

A key economic region of Southern California faces daunting challenges

As the Inland Empire undergoes a demographic transformation, shifting from a predominantly white makeup to a future where Latinos are projected to constitute 74% of the population by mid-century, USC Dornsife scholars present a path to success.
ByIleana Wachtel

A powerhouse economic region in Southern California must make dramatic changes to ensure its stability and survival as well as the continued economic health of the state, according to a new report.

The Inland Empire has significantly transformed over the past four decades from predominantly white to Latino. This notable demographic shift has brought challenges to the growing Latino community.

  • Significant disparities in housing and business development, education and other areas exist between white and Latino residents. Recognizing the need for change, USC Dornsife scholars solicited the perspectives of Latino nonprofit and community leaders and organizations.

Why it matters: The Inland Empire is inextricably linked to the economy of Los Angeles County and the rest of Southern California.

  • The region has played a crucial role in providing essential labor to Los Angeles’s various industries.
  • It has been instrumental in fostering economic expansion in areas tied to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, including facilitating the transportation of goods, warehousing of commodities, and streamlining the supply chain.
  • It has provided affordable housing for people priced out of other Southern California markets.

The new study surveyed more than 22 Latino-led nonprofit and community-based organizations in the Inland Empire.

Who’s Who: The study comes from a collaboration between scholars at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and UCLA, supported by the Inland Empire Community Foundation’s CIELO Fund.

By the numbers: Positioned east of Los Angeles, the Inland Empire is home to two of California’s largest counties, Riverside and San Bernardino.

  • Between 2016 and 2020, more than 44,000 people moved to the region from nearby Long Beach, Anaheim and L.A., according to the American Community Survey.
  • Nearly 190,000 workers commute from the region to L.A. County daily, according to the survey.
  • According to the 2020 U.S. census, of the 2.3 million residents in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, Latinos now make up nearly 52% of the population.
  • The Latino population is projected to grow to 74% by 2060.

The study found that the region has not developed strategies to meet the needs of underserved communities.

  • It has been marketed by certain industries, such as the warehouse industry, as a place to boost profits due to low-wage workers and land values.
  • Without more affordable housing, the region’s pipeline of workers into L.A. County and the ports will dry up as people move further away.
  • Education improvements and career development have been neglected.
  • Poor air quality has not been addressed in a sustainable way.

The big picture: Latinos experience disparities in income, home ownership and education.

  • Median household income for Latinos was $67,885 compared to $73,424 for the region and $80,433 for the white population.
  • Only 13% of Latinos own their homes outright, compared to 21% of whites.
  • 64% of school-aged children are Latino, but only 12% of Latinos 25 and older hold a bachelor’s degree. The statewide average is 35% for all races.

What they’re saying: The participants of the survey and the lead researchers didn’t sugarcoat their views.

  • “We have to start being more intersectional, meaning considering the concerns and needs of other communities — not just seeing these as Latino issues. We need to work with the African American community, with the Muslim community. This will make us more successful,” said a community organizer.
  • “This old paradigm of low-quality jobs and devalued communities needs to be abandoned,” said one survey participant.
  • “The Latino community has been exploited by the warehousing industry and the other industries that have settled here,” another said.
  • “For the region to continue to flourish, it must invest wholeheartedly in its Latino communities,” de Lara said.

The bottom line: The report recommends improving access for Latinos across multiple facets of the region’s social, economic, political and cultural life. This includes creating an economic model that invests in the Latino community.

  • The authors recommend business and government leaders create sustainable career opportunities in manufacturing and other areas.
  • Policymakers should prioritize more affordable housing.
  • Government and education leaders should establish a trade technical college for Latinos.
  • A comprehensive education strategy tailored to the needs of the region’s Latino communities would serve the evolving community.
  • Community leaders emphasized the need to build sustainable communities that also address equity.

What’s next? The researchers are developing a community survey to capture the sentiments of Latinos in the Inland Empire on issues including economic sustainability, education, housing, environmental equity and sustainability, and racial equity.

They aim to conduct the survey annually.