Luskin School of Public Affairs
UCLA College of Letters and Science
Director, Center for the Study of Urban Poverty
For Prof. Abel Valenzuela, inequality isn’t just an academic exercise; it’s personal. He is determined to use empirical research to dispel fear and ignite change around immigrant and itinerant labor issues, one of the country’s most emotional and controversial subjects.
As an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, Prof. Valenzuela was rocked by a startling and unsettling revelation. Working for $3.35 an hour, he realized that you could work more than full-time, year-round, at the legal minimum wage, and still be at or below the U.S. poverty line. The American Dream didn’t seem to apply to his immigrant parents or the families he knew. Thus was born his greatest area of interest and inquiry.
In his first research project, Prof. Valenzuela looked at the question of displacement: did immigrant workers displace U.S.-born workers. What he found was that immigrant workers mostly complemented native workers. Any negative impact occurred in jobs and industries that were already declining and had an overrepresentation of minority workers.
At UCLA, his research examined the lives of day laborers, a previously unstudied labor market. He and his collaborators found that day labor is a national issue that is predominantly Latino and concentrated in large urban growth centers with large demand for construction and related work.
Currently Prof. Valenzuela is interested in better understanding the impact of Los Angeles on globalization as well as globalization’s impact on the city. Another project, with a similar focus on Los Angeles, explores the rich, varied and evolving nature of the relationship of space and racial inequality in Los Angeles. “Trying to get a better handle on this body of knowledge is important for UCLA’s own history and legacy in Los Angeles,” he says.
Issues faced by minorities and immigrants in the U.S., specifically these interrelated areas: 1) immigration and labor markets, 2) poverty and inequality, and 3) immigrant settlement patterns and related services.
Ph.D. in Urban and Regional Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1993
M.C.P. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1988
B.A. UC Berkeley 1986
Joined UCLA faculty in 1994
- Martinez Jr., Ramiro, and Abel Valenzuela Jr. Immigration and Crime: Race, Ethnicity, and Violence. NYU Press. 2006.
- Bobo, Lawrence D., Melvin L. Oliver, James H. Johnson, and Abel Valenzuela, Jr., eds. Prismatic Metropolis: Inequality in Los Angeles. Russell Sage Foundation. 2002.
Attacks on minority groups teach and remind us of America's past with other newcomers, some who were forced and others who arrived voluntarily, and that good can come from hate and scorn. At the very least, we are forced to learn about new groups, customs, origins and religions.