Zev Yaroslavsky’s Quality of Life Index Survey Results


This fireside chat between Josh Haskell and Zev Yaroslavsky took place at the sixth annual UCLA Luskin Summit.

Yaroslavsky presented the results from this year’s Quality of Life Index, which annually polls a cross-section of Los Angeles County residents to apprehend the public’s perception of the quality of their own lives. As the cost of living continues to rise and affordable housing remains deprioritized, Zev shared this year’s Survey Findings.

Josh Haskell

I’d like to introduce Zev Yaroslavsky. He is a member of the UCLA faculty and serves as director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA. He joined the faculty in 2016. Prior to that, he served five terms on the Los Angeles City Council and then five terms on the County Board of Supervisors. Mr. Yaroslavsky is here today to tell us about the latest Quality of Life Index, a project of UCLA Luskin and its Department of Public Policy. The Quality of Life Index is an annual survey that asks Los Angeles County residents to rate their quality of life across nine different categories over 140 subcategories. It also includes standalone questions on important issues facing our region.


Zev, what is the big takeaway this year when it comes to the index compared to previous years?


Zev Yaroslavsky

This year, we had a statistically representative sample of almost 1,700 L.A. County residents. People were asked to rate their quality of life, on a scale of 10 to 100, on nine categories that consisted of: public safety, education, intergroup relations, cost of living, transportation and traffic, jobs and the economy, health care, the environment, and neighborhoods.


We started this survey in 2016. In the first two years, the average score was 59, after which we started to see declines. Over the past 9 years, the drop from 59 to 53 is certainly significant. This is the second time we've had the low score of 53, the last time being in 2022 during the heart of the pandemic.


When reviewing the nine categories, there is a split between top tier, middle tier, and lower tier scores. This year, as we’ve seen in years past, the top tier consists of: neighborhood, healthcare, and relations between people of different races, ethnicities, religions. The health care rating was as high during the pandemic as it ever was. This was a tribute to the confidence people had in the health system at a time of perilous crisis. 


When it comes to the lowest ranked categories, two of them have always been there: education and cost of living.


Cost of living is what's driving the overall survey score down. It has always been the lowest ranked category among the nine, but it has never been this low. In fact, this year’s 38, when the midpoint is 55, is the lowest we have ever seen in any category.


We asked two questions: “How do you rate your quality of life?” and “Which of the categories is most important to you?”. Education, especially during the pandemic, ranked very low. Interestingly, people who don't have kids in the education system tend to be more negative about education than people who do.


Returning to the cost of living, 74% of people surveyed said their cost of living was, when pitted against another category, most important. Second was public safety. Public safety has gone up in salience over the nine years the survey has been conducted. The category has faced an 8-point drop in satisfaction over the last 9 years.


Josh Haskell

Something that surprised me is that we're back where we were during the pandemic. What needs to happen for us to get out of this rut? Were you surprised that we're back at an overall score of 53?


Zev Yaroslavsky

We asked standalone questions of our respondents around several issues to uncover how they felt impacted. Sixty-five percent said that the increase in cost of food and groceries had a major impact on their quality of life. The increase was notably more of a major impact in the eyes of survey respondents than rising housing costs. We also highlighted renters this year. Renters are incredibly stressed economically. In almost every category, their ratings are lower than the overall county wide ratings.


There is a strong interest in the disparities of how climate change impacts the lives of varying individuals. For the first time, we asked respondents if they had air conditioning in their homes. We found that 76% of people have air conditioning in their residence. While 24% of residents countywide don’t have air-conditioning, this percentage is significantly higher for certain subgroups. Thirty-three percent of African Americans do not have air-conditioning, 33% of people whose household earns less than $60,000 a year do not have air conditioning, and 29% of renters do not have air conditioning. In the second supervisorial district, everything from Korea Town to, and including, Carson, 38% of the residents say they do not have air conditioning. When it gets to be 95 degrees in August and September, they don't have a switch to turn on to make their quality of life manageable. It’s one example of how climate change imposes disparities and inequities on our most marginalized communities.


Josh Haskell

For perspective, according to ApartmentList, median rent in LA is $2,083 per month. One of the highest rated categories in the survey was neighborhood. Talk about what that category means.


Zev Yaroslavsky

On a more positive note, people are very satisfied and loyal to their neighborhood. I think that's one of the reasons you see it rated as high as it is. It received the highest rating of this year’s survey at 69 followed by health care at 68 and race, ethnic and religious relations at 65.


Josh Haskell

What role do you think our elected officials play in the ratings identified through this survey?


Zev Yaroslavsky

They don’t affect the rating. But the score has impacted the rating on these elected officials somewhat. For example, Mayor Bass’s numbers went down slightly. She's still viewed positively, unlike some other political figures and institutions. Immediately when she got elected, she declared a state of emergency on homelessness. It gave her additional powers to combat an issue mayors of the past have shied away from. 


County residents are skeptical about the progress being made on homelessness. Only 20% of people indicated they were hopeful that progress would be made on this issue. Karen Bass put homelessness on her shoulders, and this can be risky for any politician. Karen Bass is still in good shape at 42-32 favorable versus unfavorable. While she has put a bullseye on her back by putting herself in charge of homelessness, people give her credit for taking on the responsibility and being willing to be held accountable for the results.


Josh Haskell

More people are falling into homelessness every day. You look at the survey, and there's a concern among renters that they could be next, that there are not enough protections to keep our homeless population from growing. Is there anything from your perch that you see being done that makes you hopeful that maybe we can slow this train?


Zev Yaroslavsky

We need to acknowledge that there are short term fixes and there are long term fixes, and you can't do one without the other. If I was sitting in my econ 101 class, you’d hear “rent control is a bad idea; let the market run its course”. The problem with the market is that it doesn’t work for a lot of people. Renters are among the most vulnerable population in our society, so you can’t just let the market run its course. 


As one of the speakers in my class last year said, the market doesn't have a conscience. We cannot operate in a perfect competition environment because there is no such thing as perfect competition. So, what’s the short term? I think you must allow a landlord to make a fair return on their investment, but you also need to protect the tenant from unscrupulous, rapacious rent increases. The fastest growing population of homeless people are people who've been evicted from their homes or their apartments. There was a telling result in one question we asked of renters: “Do you think you'll ever be able to afford to buy your own home?”. Seventy-five percent said “no.” That is not what it was like for my generation; certainly not what it was like for my parent’s generation.


Additionally, and this is an issue where my opinion differs from many other academics, we don't have a housing shortage. We have an affordable housing shortage. There is a lot of housing being built throughout the region, but a very small percentage of it is affordable.


The market is going to provide market rate housing with a tad set aside for affordability, but it's not going to solve the affordability crisis. And how do we do that? I don't have the answer. We need to figure out a way to get more than 10% of development set aside for affordability, or 15% set aside for workforce housing.


If you look at the trajectory since we started the survey, people are much more pessimistic about their lives, about their futures, than they were nine years ago. That's an irrefutable fact. They’re more stressed today because of the cost of living, the cost of housing, than they were nine years ago. Something isn’t working. For the last five years, the state legislature has passed law after law eliminating single family zoning in the state and providing density bonuses, yet still we’re seeing the lowest quality of life ratings in this county ever, especially among lower income residents and renters. Our institutions aren’t working.


Josh Haskell

There’re several audits going on right now related to how we spend our money on homelessness. Residents are frustrated that we continue to spend money while homelessness worsens. How do you think the results could impact future elections?


Zev Yaroslavsky

Nobody likes waste. But nobody wants to wait for an audit to be completed to take somebody living on the street, or in a homeless encampment, and give them housing and the services they need to get back on their feet. I am not going to defend waste, but I will defend doing something and not doing nothing until we find out audit results. 


Mayor Bass came into office in December of 2022, and she took charge by declaring an emergency, inviting all to judge her by the results. The problem is that the cost of real estate doesn't go down by declaring a state of emergency, the cost of a hotel room doesn’t go down, the cost of providing services doesn’t go down, the mental health crisis doesn't vanish, the substance abuse crisis is not solved.


The housing and homelessness crisis did not pop up overnight, and it will not get solved overnight. One of the things I urge politicians to do is not over promise but rather under promise and over deliver. While it’s all about expectations, showing results are necessary, and I do believe the audits are needed to improve on what we’re doing. However, and this is crucial, we cannot have paralysis by analysis.


We need to acknowledge that there are short term fixes and there are long term fixes, and you can't do one without the other."