Los Angeles, with a population at the 2010 United States Census of 3,792,621, is the most populous city in the state of California, and the second most populous in the United States, after New York City. It has an area of 468.67 square miles (1,213.8 km2), and is located in Southern California. The city is the focal point of the larger Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana metropolitan statistical area, which contains 12,828,837 people as of 2010, and is one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world and the second largest in the United States. Los Angeles is also the seat of Los Angeles County, the most populated and one of the most ethnically diverse counties in the United States, while the entire Los Angeles area itself has been recognized as the most diverse of the nation’s largest cities.
Los Angeles was incorporated as a municipality on April 4, 1850, five months before California achieved statehood. Los Angeles is a world center of business, international trade, entertainment, culture, media, fashion, science, sports, technology, and education. It is home to renowned institutions covering a broad range of professional and cultural fields and is one of the most substantial economic engines within the United States. Los Angeles has been ranked the third richest city and fifth most powerful and influential city in the world. The Los Angeles combined statistical area (CSA) has a gross metropolitan product (GMP) of $831 billion (as of 2008), making it the third largest economic center in the world, after the Greater Tokyo and New York metropolitan areas.
The 2010 United States Census reported that Los Angeles had a population of 3,792,621. The population density was 7,544.6 people per square mile. The 2010 census showed that the racial makeup of Los Angeles included: 1,888,158 Whites (49.8 percent), 365,118 African Americans (9.6 percent), 28,215 Native Americans (0.7 percent), 426,959 Asians (11.3 percent), 5,577 Pacific Islanders (0.1 percent), 902,959 from other races (23.8 percent), and 175,635 (4.6 percent) from two or more races. Hispanics or Latinos of any race were 1,838,822 persons (48.5 percent).
Non-Hispanic whites were 28.7 percent of the population in 2010, compared to 86.3 percent in 1940. Mexicans make up the largest ethnic group of Latinos at 31.9 percent of Los Angeles’ population, followed by Salvadorans (6.0 percent), Guatemalans (3.6 percent), Hondurans (0.6 percent), Nicaraguans (0.4 percent), Puerto Ricans (0.4 percent), Peruvians (0.4 percent), Cubans (0.4 percent), Colombians (0.3 percent), Argentines (0.2 percent), and Ecuadorians (0.2 percent). The Latino population is spread throughout the city of Los Angeles and its metropolitan area but it is most heavily concentrated in the East Los Angeles region, which has a long established Mexican American and Central American community.
The largest Asian ethnic groups are Filipinos (3.2 percent) and Koreans (2.9 percent), which have their own established ethnic enclaves. Koreatown and Historic Filipinotown. The Chinese population of Los Angeles (1.8 percent) can be found mostly outside of Los Angeles city limits and in the San Gabriel Valley of Los Angeles County, but there is a sizable presence in the city, notably in Chinatown. Chinatown is also home to many Thais and Cambodians, who make up 0.3 percent and 0.1 percent of Los Angeles’ population, respectively. Japanese comprise 0.9 percent of L.A.’s population, and have an established Little Tokyo, and Vietnamese make up 0.5 percent of Los Angeles’ population. L.A. has a rather small South Asian population. Indians comprise up 0.9 percent of the city’s population.
Geography and Disaster History
Los Angeles is subject to earthquakes due to its location on the Pacific Ring of Fire. The geologic instability has produced numerous faults, which cause approximately 10,000 earthquakes annually. One of the major faults is the San Andreas Fault. Located at the boundary between the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate, it is predicted to be the source of Southern California’s next big earthquake. Major earthquakes to have hit the Los Angeles area include the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake, the 1971 San Fernando earthquake near Sylmar, and the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. Nevertheless, all but a few quakes are of low intensity and are not felt. The Los Angeles basin and metropolitan area are also at risk from blind thrust earthquakes. Parts of the city are also vulnerable to tsunamis; harbor areas were damaged by waves from the Valdivia earthquake in 1960.
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles leads the largest archdiocese in the country. Cardinal Roger Mahony oversaw construction of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, which opened in September 2002 in downtown Los Angeles. Construction of the cathedral marked a coming of age of the city’s Catholic, heavily Latino community. There are numerous Catholic churches and parishes throughout Los Angeles.
With 621,000 Jews in the metropolitan area (490,000 in city proper), the region has the second largest Jewish population in the United States, with the largest population concentrated on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley, though Boyle Heights and Northwest Los Angeles once had large Jewish populations. Many varieties of Judaism are represented in the area, including Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and Reconstructionist. The Breed Street Shul in East Los Angeles, built in 1923, was the largest synagogue west of Chicago in its early decades. (It is no longer a sacred space and has been converted to a museum and community center.)
Los Angeles has also had a rich and influential Protestant tradition. The first Protestant service in Los Angeles was a Methodist meeting held in a private home in 1850 and the oldest Protestant church still operating was founded in 1867. In the early 1900s the Bible Institute of Los Angeles published the founding documents of the Christian Fundamentalist movement and the Azusa Street Revival launched Pentecostalism. Aimee Semple McPherson broadcast over the radio in the 1920s from the Angelus Temple, home of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. The Potter’s House Christian Fellowship and Metropolitan Community Church also had their origins in the city. Important churches in the city include First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, Bel Air Presbyterian Church, First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles, West Angeles Church of God in Christ, Second Baptist Church, Crenshaw Christian Center, McCarty Memorial Christian Church, and First Congregational Church.
The Los Angeles California Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the second largest Mormon temple in the world. The Los Angeles California Temple, the second largest temple operated by the LDS is on Santa Monica Boulevard in the Westwood district of Los Angeles. Dedicated in 1956, it was the first Mormon temple built in California and it was the largest in the world when completed.
Because of Los Angeles’ large multi-ethnic population, a wide variety of faiths are practiced, including Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Sikhism, Bahá’í, various Eastern Orthodox Churches, Sufism and others. Immigrants from Asia for example, have formed a number of significant Buddhist congregations making the city home to the greatest variety of Buddhists in the world.
We have identified 2,941 congregations in the City of Los Angeles, and 8,893 congregations in Los Angeles County. These are in addition to several ministerial alliances and interfaith groups that are active in the city’s religious scene. Because of the very large numbers of congregations and other religious groups in Los Angeles, we are currently working with the Los Angeles Region Red Cross to understand their assets and to assign congregations to appropriate tiers for analysis.
Brie Loskota is the former executive director (2016-2021) of the USC Center for Religion and Civil Culture.
Hebah Farrag was the assistant director of research of the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture through 2023.
Richard Flory is the executive director of the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.