California's Inland Empire, on the Rise

Series Examines Challenges of Growth, East of Los Angeles

Listen: Listen to Part I of the Series

Listen: Hear Part II

Listen: Hear Part III

Maily Stroud, 18, earns $9 an hour to direct potential homebuyers to new suburban tract homes in the Inland Empire. Carrie Kahn, NPR hide caption

Part I Photo Gallery: Housing
itoggle caption Carrie Kahn, NPR

Orange grower Dave Eakin is a fast-disappearing breed -- an Inland Empire farmer. Ina Jaffe, NPR hide caption

Part II Photo Gallery: Agriculture
itoggle caption Ina Jaffe, NPR

Distribution centers are booming in the Inland Empire, thanks to easily accessable freeways and train links. Scott Horsley, NPR hide caption

Part III Photo Gallery: Business
itoggle caption Scott Horsley, NPR

The U.S. economic recovery may be sputtering in many parts of the country, but not in the Southern California region that bills itself as the Inland Empire — a desert area the size of West Virginia that combines San Bernardino and Riverside counties. The "empire" is booming: it's now home to more than 3.5 million people, more than double the population 25 years ago.

At the same time, decades of unbridled expansion are taking their toll. Development is pushing out farmers and creating more pollution. Traffic jams on freeways full of commuters trying to get from their suburban tract homes in the Inland Empire to their jobs in the Los Angeles metro area can stretch for miles. And most new jobs in the area are low-paying service jobs — leading many to wonder if the growth is sustainable.

A three-part series of reports for All Things Considered looks at the past and future of the Inland Empire:

Part I: The Endless Suburb

NPR's Carrie Kahn reports on the huge suburban sprawl growing in the desert east of Los Angeles. The hyper-expensive California housing market and Southern California's robust economy continue to draw hopeful homeowners by the millions — ultimately pushing whatever affordable housing might be available even further east, over the mountains and into the high desert.

Part II: Disappearing Farmland

NPR's Ina Jaffe reports that subdivisions are swiftly replacing the orange orchards and wheat fields of the Inland Empire, and shopping malls are replacing ranches. But some farmers here who want to hang on to their way of life are finding it's still possible — for now.

Part III: Climbing the Economic Ladder

NPR's Scott Horsley reports that the Inland Empire has one of the fastest growing economies in the nation. Affordable housing has drawn commuters from the coast, who in turn are attracting small businesses. Good highways and railroads have made the Inland Empire a major distribution center. But now the question is whether the region can climb the economic ladder by attracting high-paying jobs.

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