Skip Nav
What Is It Like to Be in an Open Marriage? 1 Woman Shares Her Story
Popsugar Pride
24 Songs That Will Add Some Oomph to Your LGBTQ Pride Month Celebration
There's Literally a Video Game About Hot Dads Dating Other Dads and People Are Hyped

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?


Join The Conversation
Label, Label, Label!
shanimalcracker shanimalcracker 9 years
Going to school in LA, I definitely was exposed to only the pretty and wealthy parts on a daily basis. However, I did a lot of community outreach that showed me, even 20 minutes away from campus, there was a lot of need. However, a lot of the need did incidentally come from people who are immigrants, whether or not they came to the United States legally. The generation of people that immigrated here, who are now parents, definitely do suffer a language gap and do not have well-to-do occupations. This population in Los Angeles is huge. LA has awful traffic and not the best violence rates. Consequently, there is a lot that has to be done for the city and I think this starts with improving the educational system, making English literacy and language more fundamental, and a slew of other steps. It angers me that things could be better, but I guess at this point, what matters is damage control.
vanitypot vanitypot 9 years
I never would have thought that US can have a "Third World" city. It seems rather bizarre to have one especially US is viewed as a "First World" country and the "Land of Milk and Honey" by MY country (Philippines). I hope the local government unit in LA could do something about it, as we (and other "Third World" countries) always try to do our best to upgrade our lives.
Auntie-Coosa Auntie-Coosa 9 years
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? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ It's called Socialism and Marxism . . . and NO, I won't be having any of that, thank you just the same. I earned mine, I'm keeping mine, I give to charities. IF a person is an illegal alien, then that person needs to return to his home Country, today. If a person is documented and in the USofA legally, there is no sense in his/her not learning English. They give FREE classes at Adult Learning Centers all across this vast land. Mexican President Calderon is intentionally sending his uneducated poor across the border to the USofA. If any of you tried to 'sneak' across the border and be an undocumented immigrant in Mexico, you'd be behind bars before you could say "quesadilla." The North American Union now called the Security and Prosperity Partnership, is aimed to take away all your American Citizen Rights and replace them with a hodge-podge of Mexican-Canadian laws. YOUR money will be taxed to pay welfare to impoverished Mexicans. Probably at the same rate as most EU countries, in the neighborhood of 50% of your gross. And this is before Social Security is taken out, also on the Gross. IF THEY ALLOW Social Security to continue. The trend is to allow you to put some of what you have left into your own choice of investments. As if. And there will not be any IRS because there will be NO refunds, ever. Median income today is $50,000. You'll see $25,000 of that. Can you live on half your current gross income? And as for your guns, if you own any, you'll be turning them over to the authorities. After all, a dictator doesn't want anyone but his (or her) Militia carrying weapons. Look for the meaning behind the pretty words. Y'all are smart enough to figure these things out.
high-d high-d 9 years
ugh shit like this annoys me. illegal immigrants come here to work because they are desperate for money, no one choses to want to live in their situation having to do the shitty jobs with shitty pay and being feared of getting deported who wants to live that way? STOP USING THEM AS SCAPEGOATS. many of their kids have graduated from highschool and continue to go to college. i wouldnt use third world i would use different americas because we all do not live in the same country due to captialism, the rich have different lives from the poor struggling to get by, its not the same america.
yesteryear yesteryear 9 years
Lainetm said it best, our beautiful state of California is falling to pieces around us. Anyone else hear those radio commercials for California Bonds lately? So sad. "I want my children to enjoy the California I grew up in"... it's true. We are in a bad spot right now.
UnDave35 UnDave35 9 years
Is it any surprise when people refer to immigrants from these places as "illegal aliens?" We only refer to these people as "illegal aliens" when the come to this country illegally.
stephley stephley 9 years
Is the site having technical issues today?
ehadams ehadams 9 years
I've lived in LA my entire life and I agree the city definitely has a lot of problems, and I think our current Mayor is making them worse instead of better. I voted for him and now I really regret it. The cost of living here is ridiculously high- granted many of us also have higher salaries than the rest of the country, but many others do not. Good jobs are also difficult to find- we have a very competitive market. My boyfriend and I are both well educated and have lots of job experience and it is nearly impossible for us to find new/better jobs. Our household income is over $100,000 and we still can't afford a house in a decent area! Gas is between $4 to $4.50. And I won't even get started on our terrible school systems, animal shelters, and traffic issues (they want to turn the big streets by me to one way streets- wtf?!?). The country's economic situation is definitely not helping either. I am thinking about moving away, but my mom is here and I couldn't leave her b/c I am her only family still alive- but I'm a bit tired of struggling so hard to have a good life. :(
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 9 years
Well I've always thought that the very terms first/second/third world were tools of reference for economists, representatives, and what ever other profession would need that differentiation. I really don't think that lay people in general have to wrap themselves up in the term because I can see how it can be a moral killer. I grew up in and around Los Angeles and I watched the tide of immigrants grow over thirty year’s wile the employment resources gradually disappeared. This is why a proactive economically sound and humane migrant worker program is desperately needed. So that migrants can come here and make money but also be directed in a more efficient manner to where the work is. The problem with the current situation is that migrants land in a city of there choice plant roots start families and their now stuck where they are. The jobs will come and go but they wont' have any resources to follow the jobs. Our dilapidated most embarrassing education system is another thing which effects the situation by perpetuating the problem.
Cassandra57 Cassandra57 9 years
Wow, my last couple of comments have disappeared into the ether. Reader's Digest version: Yes. Duh. LA is falling apart physically, socially, and economically.
stephley stephley 9 years
Citizen, this is a beautifully written entry! They're usually fab, but I actually read this twice because it just flows so gracefully and intelligently. My far less articulate response is that yes, I do think it's time to retire the Third World designation. I can see that it made sense after WWII, but political realities and globalization have rendered it pretty useless.
Cassandra57 Cassandra57 9 years
Well, I actually live in L.A. I think the term "third world" is more inflammatory than informative--but that doesn't make it wrong. Some examples I see that describe the problem: An adjacent house has ten people (immigrants, BTW) living in a two- or three-bedroom home. The city (and state!) is not well-run, fiscally. The mayor does not represent all his constituencies equally. Laws are not effectively enforced. (i.e., Special Rule 40) Police are outnumbered and outgunned. Schools are deteriorating, both in terms of test scores and physical facilities. Congestion is increasing, contributing to flaring tempers. Infrastructure is deteriorating. We're beginning to have power outages due to transformer explosions, sinkholes in streets when water mains fail. Public transit is laughable in most areas. Streets and parks are not safe. Everything is getting dirtier. Streets are not swept, people discard trash in parking lots. Jobs are getting scarcer. Decent jobs, even more so. The middle class is shrinking rapidly. (I know we've personally been losing ground the last couple of years.)
hausfrau hausfrau 9 years
I remember when I was in Model UN we weren't allowed to use the term "third world" we were supposed to say "developing nations"
Jillness Jillness 9 years
"What we need for LA (and the rest of the country), IMO, is a debate on how to best incorporate the people who are here into a culture that is thriving and sustainable, not a debate on how to keep (or kick) them out." I agree. One thing I think is so important, and latches on to the Babel reference above, is for community outreach to teach english. Immigrants who know english make significantly more money. I also think this will enable communities to share with each other, instead of communication segregation. I think it is important to do it in a sensitive way, because the goal wouldn't be to eliminate other languages. I just think there are massive benefits to sharing a common language.
mini_pixie mini_pixie 9 years
My gut reaction on hearing the term "Third World" applied to LA was that they were indicating that having so many immigrants in the city was automatically bringing it down to something less that American, that a high immigrant population is a death sentence for culture and cleanliness. But seeing the definition, it makes a lot more sense. I definitely agree that there is a huge gap between rich and poor, especially in LA (but lots of other places, too) I think overall that the term "Third World" has so much of a confused meaning to most people that it may cloud the debate, and have people talking about the wrong problems. Having a high population of people in the area that came from somewhere else is not bad in and of itself, it just presents extra challenges that can be learned from and help an area to grow into something more than it was. It just takes a lot of creativity (and money, and social programs) to tap the resources that the new individuals bring to the table. What we need for LA (and the rest of the country), IMO, is a debate on how to best incorporate the people who are here into a culture that is thriving and sustainable, not a debate on how to keep (or kick) them out. It is obvious that this is a great place to be, which is why so many people want to be here. Lets find a way to move forward and build something truly spectacular.
nicachica nicachica 9 years
Cine...I COMPLETELY AGREE WITH YOU!!! (when will this happen again, i don't know!) happy Friday! :wave: okay so maybe i lied a teensy bit about logging off...okay, time to buckle down and work.!
cine_lover cine_lover 9 years
Los Angeles has a HUGE difference of income. There are the insanely wealthy, and the poor. The middle class in non existent because it is so expensive to live there. I think Los Angeles has a sad future unless something is done by the people of the city. There are just not enough jobs or high enough pay for people.
nicachica nicachica 9 years
in any case, immigration is one of those topics that gets really touchy really quickly and unfortunately, i'm going to have to bow out of this debate early (gotta prepare for my work's bbq this afternoon!). happy debating everyone! ;)
nicachica nicachica 9 years
i HATE the term "third world" because it makes other countries seem so alien and foreign and so far removed from "industrialized countries." Is it any surprise when people refer to immigrants from these places as "illegal aliens?" i know "alien" is the official word that our government uses to name immigrants (legal or illegal) but i feel like its usage has been co-opted by certain people to make immigrants sound dirty and unlike "us" and it takes away the humanity and dignity of people who come from other countries. why can't they be referred to as "undocumented immigrants?" that's what they are after all...
kia kia 9 years
Los Angeles Times Magazine did an interesting piece about ten years ago on their front cover equating L. A. to a modern day Babel and questioning if the plight would be the same. L. A. is a modern, global world of haves and have nots. In 2000 I was a supervisor with the U. S. Census Bureau in a small office that needed to enumerate 90,000 homes that spoke over 95 languages. We had to deal with IRS concerns (from Hollywood tax evaders), INS concerns (illegal immigrants), etc. Dealing with the logistics of that feat was mind-boggling. But for me L. A. is my hometown and I have a love for that chaos I was brought up in.
nyaradzom2001 nyaradzom2001 9 years
LMAO!!!!LMAO!!!:rotfl: Raci wow, that was frigging awesome
raciccarone raciccarone 9 years
I do think LA is becoming a third world city. Last week I was eating at Spago's and I asked the bus boy to get me water. I had to wait about three minutes. It's like freaking Uganda.
nyaradzom2001 nyaradzom2001 9 years
everytime i see something about the future of the US and immigration i just think mass hysteria.
Dani Mathers Convicted For Invasion of Privacy
Undocumented Father Detained by ICE
Adam West Dead
Museum of Ice Cream Los Angeles
From Our Partners
Latest Love
All the Latest From Ryan Reynolds