"Promise Zone" could give L.A. youth pathway out of poverty

President Barack Obama announced the establishment of "Promise Zones" in some of the nation's poorest communities
President Barack Obama announced the establis... 02:22

LOS ANGELES -- President Barack Obama made good on a pledge Thursday to focus this year on income inequality. He announced the establishment of what he calls "Promise Zones," communities that will be given tax incentives and grants to fight poverty, create jobs and improve education to give kids greater opportunities for success. 

Willy Manjarrez CBS News
 The president said the first five promise zones will be in Los Angeles, San Antonio, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, southeastern Kentucky and Philadelphia.

Just blocks from the gleaming towers of downtown Los Angeles is the Pico-Union neighborhood. Half the households here earn less than $27,000 a year.

Nineteen-year-old Willy Manjarrez says he doesn’t like living here.

"I actually would rather live somewhere else," he says. "That's why I want to go to school, finish high school, go to college and get out of this neighborhood."

Pico-Union's designation as a Promise Zone gives it preference for federal aid already approved by Congress. Los Angeles could get a total of $500 million over 10 years to build affordable housing and public transit and to boost education and job training programs in the zone.

"I think it gives neighborhoods like this a real shot for young people to have a pathway out of poverty," says Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Eric Garcetti CBS News
 Garcetti says the Promise Zone concept focuses several anti-poverty efforts on one area at the same time. Some Republicans favor giving block grants to states, instead of using federal programs.

"The nice thing is these federal programs have a lot of conditions attached and a lot of oversight, so these programs by themselves aren’t new, it's the combining of them that is brand new," Garcetti says.

Youth Policy Institute, the organization that runs Willy Manjarrez's school, plans to use Promise Zone funds to expand their education and job training programs from nine schools to 45 by 2019. Manjarrez wants to be a doctor.

"Be somebody that nobody expected to be, somebody successful, you know," he says. "Somebody with a nice life, nice house, nice car, nice family."

President Obama says he plans to hold the Promise Zones accountable. Each zone will have a director and a board, and they are required to track outcomes and evaluate results. The plan is to eventually expand the program to 20 Promise Zones nationwide.

  • Ben Tracy

    Ben Tracy is a CBS News White House correspondent based in Washington, D.C.