LABarometer: A new quarterly survey of L.A. County residents

A new longitudinal survey of L.A. residents shows that life satisfaction in L.A. County is lower than the national average, and cost of living is partly to blame.

Living in Los Angeles is expensive, and the results of a new survey called LABarometer suggest that the high cost of living in Los Angeles permeates the lives of residents in a number of ways. It impacts Angelenos’ overall life satisfaction, their view of the economy, and their exposure to stress. It keeps some residents in their homes while pushing others out, and it shapes the very definition of affordability in L.A*.

LABarometer is a quarterly, internet-based survey of approximately 1,700 residents living in randomly selected households throughout L.A. County. The survey is designed and administered by scientists at USC’s Center for Economic and Social Research (CESR) to monitor social conditions in Los Angeles, with a focus on four key issues: livability, mobility, sustainability & resiliency, and affordability & prosperity. It is the first survey of its kind to regularly engage with the same group of L.A. County residents over time, tracking how individual lives change in the face of L.A.’s dynamic environment.

Last week, CESR released the results of LABarometer’s first annual survey on livability. The Livability Survey assesses neighborhood quality of life in Los Angeles, guided by the principle that a livable neighborhood is one in which residents feel happy, healthy, safe, socially connected, and with access to important goods, services and amenities. The results detailed in LABarometer’s Livability Report are based on survey questions that we fielded to our internet panel of 1,698 L.A. County residents (participation rate: 75%) as well as questions that we fielded to CESR’s national internet panel, the Understanding America Study, of 7,898 U.S. residents (participation rate: 73%).

Here are a few takeaways from the LABarometer Livability Report.

Life Satisfaction in L.A. County is Lower Than the National Average

According to our results, L.A. County residents feel slightly more satisfied than dissatisfied with their lives, with an average life satisfaction score of 4.4 out of 7 (where a score of 1 reflects strong dissatisfaction and 7 reflects strong satisfaction). This score suggests that more L.A. residents are satisfied with their lives than not.  However, average life satisfaction in L.A. County is statistically significantly lower than it is in the rest of the United States. Further analyses reveal that the life satisfaction gap between L.A. County and the rest of the U.S. is primarily explained by differences in the demographic composition of the two populations and regional differences in cost of living.

Money Buys Less Life Satisfaction in L.A. County Than it Does in the Rest of the Country

It is well documented that life satisfaction generally improves as income increases – a pattern we observe in our survey. Yet, life satisfaction improves to a lesser degree in Los Angeles than it does in the rest of the country. On average, moving from a low to a high income group in L.A. County is associated with a smaller bump in life satisfaction than moving from a low to a high income group elsewhere in the U.S.  These results suggest that there is a life satisfaction penalty for living in L.A., and it exists primarily for higher income residents. One hypothesis to explain this is the higher cost of living in L.A. County. Indeed, we find that when cost of living adjustments are made, the life satisfaction gap between L.A. County and U.S. residents disappears and loses its statistical significance.

L.A. County and CA Renters Believe They Can Afford More Than Other U.S. Renters, Regardless of Their Income

In L.A. County, the median rent is $1300 – 78% higher than the median rent in other parts of the country ($730) and 44% higher than the median maximum rent that U.S. residents believe they can afford ($900). In fact, we find that L.A. County and California renters generally believe they can afford more than other U.S. renters, regardless of their income. Across income groups, Angelenos report a maximum affordable rent that is substantially higher than the maximum affordable rent reported outside of California. This suggests that Angelenos do not just pay more in rent than other U.S. residents, they generally believe that they can afford more, and this belief has little to do with their income. It is a belief that renters likely developed to cope with the high cost of housing in L.A.

For a full set of results and a complete description of our data and methods, please find LABarometer’s Livability Report on online at https://cesr.usc.edu/labarometer/reports_releases. And stay tuned for our next survey on Mobility!  Results will be released in January 2020.

* LABarometer is made possible by the financial support of Union Bank