Los Angeles County has a unique history as a place of opportunity and growth—of providing a wide range of opportunity for people of all backgrounds, educational levels, and income groups. It is particularly famous as an engine of opportunity for the middle class—it is iconic as a place of suburbs clustered around suburbs. The absence of a core city center around which all regional activity is clustered is a testament to the overwhelming rise of a middle class who desired the relative space and distance that the suburban experience provides.
This history of opportunity, however, is under pressure today. That pressure comes in two forms: (1) external political and economic trends which have changed the context of the opportunity economy; and (2) cost pressures created by a mounting wave of public policy choices and alternatives—most recently caused by the state’s new energy policies. While the Los Angeles economy as a whole is moving lethargically out of the Great Recession, the pressure is particularly intense for the key components of its economic infrastructure that provide the greatest upward income mobility to lower wage and less educated workers—what this study calls the “opportunity economy.” This analysis looks in detail at these sectors of the Los Angeles County economic engine and examines their vulnerability to the rising energy prices resulting from a series of state policy initiatives energy initiatives, including AB 32 and the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standards.