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White, Single and Upwardly Mobile: A Profile of the City

By Erica Williams
Staff Writer

June 11, 2003 -- Santa Monicans are increasingly well educated, white renters, most of whom live alone in an affluent city where the cost of living continues to rise as rents and property values have skyrocketed, according to an analysis of the 2000 U.S. Census by the RAND Corporation.

In fact, Santa Monica is rapidly losing the little diversity it has, with its black and Hispanic populations experiencing significant declines, the analysis found.

The number of black Santa Monica residents dropped 17.4 percent since 1990, while the number of Hispanics declined 7.4 percent, bucking a statewide trend. By contrast, the number of Hispanics grew by 26.6 percent in Los Angeles County and by nearly 43 percent in California overall.

But while Hispanics made up 45 percent of the county’s population and 32 percent of the state’s, they accounted for only 13 percent of Santa Monica’s 84,000 residents.

The decline in the Hispanic population, according to the RAND analysis, “is significant given that the Latino population continued to expand in Los Angeles County and the state during the nineties.”

However, researcher Adrian Overton, the study’s author, cautioned against drawing any broad conclusions about the declines in the black and Hispanic populations based solely on the Census numbers.

“It is something to take note of,” Overton said, “but we can’t really say if it’s a major finding. If it pops up (again) 10 years down the road, then we may have a trend.”

The decline in the number of black residents was even more striking than the loss of Hispanics, with their numbers dropping 17.4 percent, from 3,732 residents in 1990 to just over 3,000 in 2000.

Comparatively, the county and the state experienced declines of 3.6 percent and 4.3 percent respectively. (The study notes that the 2000 Census was the first time city residents could indicate being of more than one race or ethnicity, which “may explain a very small proportion of the decline in the African-American population.”)

Blacks and Hispanics weren’t the only groups to lose numbers in a city that saw its general population decline 3.25 percent. Whites -- who accounted for 72 percent of the population in 2000 -- declined 7.2 percent since1990.

Still, Santa Monica’s white population was more than double the percentage of Los Angeles County’s and 25 percent higher than in the rest of California, according to the analysis.

Asians were the only group whose population increased in Santa Monica during the 1990s, growing by nearly 14 percent, which reflects “the larger geographic trend at the county and state levels,” the report noted.

Though its overall population declined slightly during the 1990s, Santa Monica is “one of the most densely populated cities in California,” with just over 10,000 people crammed into each of its 8.3 square miles.

Most Santa Monicans lived in the 90403 Zip code, which comprises the Wilshire/Montana corridor, and 90405, which includes Sunset Park and Ocean Park. Each of the two zip codes accounted for about 30 percent of Santa Monica’s residents.

The decline in population “is most likely due to the fact that the city is completely built out with few areas to expand,” the report said.

Most of the city’s residents were renters, the study found, accounting for 65 percent of occupants of the city’s 48,000 housing units in 2000. Though the number is high, it represents a slight decline from 69 percent in 1990.

By contrast, about half the units in LA County and California are owner-occupied. Renters in the city are mostly single, while two to three people typically occupy an apartment in the county and state.

“The high proportion of single occupant renters in the city is indicative of the city’s attractiveness to younger working age residents (ages 25 to 44),” the report said. They “are more likely to be single and relatively well-educated,” compared to county and state residents.

This is the first in a series of articles profiling Santa Monica based on the latest RAND analysis of the 2000 U.S. Census.


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