By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Los Angeles County's homeless population has grown by 12 percent during the past two years amid a sluggish economic recovery that has left the poorest residents of the second-largest U.S. metropolitan area falling farther behind, a study released on Monday found.
The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority's report cited stagnant or falling wages among the lowest-income earners, a local jobless rate that remains above state and national averages, and a worsening lack of affordable housing.
"The economy has improved, but not for the persons at greatest risk of homelessness," said Peter Lynn, the authority's executive director.
According to the agency's latest biennial count, an estimated 44,300 people are living on the streets, in cars, in abandoned buildings or in shelters and government-funded "transitional housing" on any given night in Los Angeles County.
That tally, based on a census conducted in January, is up 12 percent, or nearly 5,000 people, across Los Angeles County, compared with numbers reported from the previous survey in 2013.
The same percentage increase was recorded within the city of Los Angeles proper, home to a notorious downtown Skid Row district that ranks among the greatest concentrations of homeless in the United States. The city alone accounted for more than a third of the county's total.
The number of families with children included in the overall count also rose 12 percent from 2013.
As in past years, many of the homeless suffered from substance abuse, mental illness or physical disabilities. The number who were victims of domestic violence increased substantially since 2013, along with the number considered chronically homeless.
A major factor cited for rising homelessness in Southern California has been the rising cost of housing, coupled with wage stagnation at the lower end of the income spectrum that has led to a housing affordability crisis in the region.
The state's lowest-income households spent two-thirds of their income on rent, according to a recent report by the California Housing Partnership. That left little money for food, healthcare, transportation and other needs.
That study also found that 1.5 million low-income households - half of them in the greater Los Angeles region - lacked access to housing they could afford.
(Editing by Paul Tait)