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Is LA a "Third World" City? Do We Need to Call Names?

Is LA a "Third World" City? Do We Need to Call Names?

Los Angeles is becoming a "Third World city," according to a new study by the Migration Policy Institute, a DC-based institute. They point to a population where immigrants make up half its workforce, a third of immigrants have not graduated from high school, and 60 percent do not speak English fluently.

The study poses the future concern that immigrants will be ill equipped to fill California's fastest-growing occupations, like computers and health care, and a looming vacuum in those industries caused by baby boomers reaching retirement age, hint that a similar pattern will spread across the US. The US Census recently predicted that by 2050, minorities will account for half of all residents across America. To see the future of LA and consider the "Third World" question,


A spokesman for the Industrial Areas Foundation, a think tank that specializes in social change, asserts that Los Angeles is at a crossroads, and may illuminate the true challenge:

The question is are we going to be a 21st-century city with shared prosperity, or a Third World city with an elite group on top and most on near poverty wages?

The looming and potentially huge inequity between economic groups is something to consider, but in my mind the story also calls into question the term "Third World." I wonder if we have grown, or globalized out of a strict, hierarchical, better-than/less-than division of the world into gold, silver, and bronze countries.

Definitions of Third World point to common traits like highly dependent economies, high population growth, and widespread poverty. And, like is possible for Los Angeles, a sharply divided economic structure with crushing poverty topped by ruling elites. A wide variety of factors can get a country pegged as First, Second, or Third world.

But is it a useful taxonomy anymore? Is pegging a country as third rate, helpful? Have we come to the point where the "those other poor people over there" are actually a lot closer, and tied more intrinsically to our own lives, as to defy the hierarchy? Is it time to ditch the first/second/third, and just be the world?


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