Poverty Dominates Discussion at People’s State of the City

PSOTC MAIN

Photos by Brian Addison.

North Long Beach saw over 300 people fill Church One last Thursday night to partake in the third annual People’s State of the City. The address is a conglomerate of fifteen community and educational organizations who seek to address citywide issues ranging from housing to jobs, environmental health to immigrant rights.

The gathering is meant to create a dialogue by addressing issues which affect Long Beach residents directly. These issues are presented by community organizations with representatives from groups such as Housing Long Beach (HLB) and the Filipino Migrant Center (FMC) taking center stage through multiple speeches and presentations. Though each group’s specific focus ranges across the spectrum, each held a common thread in their narrative: poverty, whether it be financial, educational or health-related.

“Whether small or big, winning living wages for [all Long Beach workers] is a win,” said Joanna Concepcion of FMC. “How do we celebrate these wins and how we keep up the momentum of our movement here in Long Beach? And how do we talk about shifting the power of every day working person in Long Beach to transform the future?”

Concepcion went on to explain how her own narrative—tied with the stories of many in the audience through themes of immigration, identity, and civic involvement—is ultimately part of the larger Long Beach future.

PSOTC 01“We are creating a united vision of what we want Long Beach to look like tomorrow or next week or in five years or in ten years—that is the purpose of us gathering here,” Concepcion said. “We are creating a more united and stronger city, that all Long Beach residents can contribute to that vision.”

Housing and child care were also major issues—and altering them through initiatives was, according to Kerry Gallagher of HLB, tantamount to creating the vision of making Long Beach better that many speakers proclaimed.

“Twenty-five percent of Long Beach’s full-time workers are living under the poverty line,” Gallagher said. “These are the people that are playing by the rules, investing in their community, and yet cannot provide for their families and barely make their rent.”

In Gallagher’s address, she noted how the city has largely concentrated Downtown development on a tourism economy, essentially ignoring its industrial workforce and harming earning potential. Even more, though technology is increasing, Gallagher noted that 8 out 10 of the jobs created int he city are still low-wage.

Given Long Beach’s rates of poverty and unemployment that are above the county, state, and country’s, many renters pay far more than what is federally defined as affordable house living, i.e. 30% of one’s income is spent on rent while the other 70% goes towards groceries, utilities, medical expenses, and that thing called living. This means nearly half of the city’s 130,000 renters pay 35% (and up to 70%) of their income on housing alone.

“This ultimately means people are deciding between things like food and medical needs—basic needs,” Gallagher said. “This is detrimental: it prevents them from spending on our larger regional economy, it prevents them from spending at our local shops if there is not enough money left over.”

PSOTC 03

Kerry Gallagher of Housing Long Beach addresses the audience.

Other issues, including the high cost of education, the underwhelming graduation rate of LBUSD students, and one quote which stood out from Kokayi Kwa Jitahdi, Director of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, “I have homies dying from gun shots and asthma.”

All in all, after a multitude of social issues addressed, 9th District Councilmember Steve Neal succinctly explained the main thrust of why such as event is needed:

“Change does not come from City Hall,” said Neal. “The change comes from the groundswell—and that’s you. You give us [at City Hall] the power we need to make changes.”

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