Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, was featured in an NBC News article about challenges facing Asian American communities during the pandemic. One study co-authored by Ong found that Asian-owned businesses were hit the hardest during the pandemic due to halts in customer-facing operations as well as increased racism. To better support lower-income and underrepresented Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, the White House announced an initiative to disaggregate data under the “Asian” umbrella and expand language options for federal programs. Ong noted that some Asian American entrepreneurs are immigrants with a rudimentary command of English that is not sufficient to navigate federal program applications, especially when the information is provided only in English. He said some older business owners were not aware programs like the Paycheck Protection Program existed and could not quickly move their services online. “There seems to be a double whammy,” Ong said.
A new grant of $500,000 from Wells Fargo will support efforts by researchers affiliated with the Luskin School to determine best practices and policy solutions to benefit businesses operated by persons of color.
The award will go to the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (UCLA LPPI) and the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK) for research aimed at increasing access to capital, technology and environmentally sustainable practices for these businesses.
“COVID-19’s disparate impact on small business owners of color highlighted the enduring legacy of structural barriers that impede economic opportunity and social mobility for large swaths of working Americans,” said Maria Samaniego, deputy director of UCLA LPPI. “This grant will allow us to develop policy research and resources that are specifically tailored to the needs of communities of color, which have the power to transform small business ownership in ways that will drive our economy for generations.”
UCLA LPPI and CNK will focus on understanding how to broaden access to financial services and technology tools. They will also explore how to best leverage public, private and social partnerships to boost the entrepreneurship potential of small businesses owned by Latinos and other people of color. The findings will lead to more informed decisions about post-COVID economic recovery policy relating to minority-owned businesses. Another goal will be increasing labor force participation in those communities.
“We cannot ignore the bright spotlight the pandemic has put on inequity, nor the responsibility and opportunity we have to close gaps in resources that have existed for far too long,” said Jenny Flores, head of small business growth philanthropy at Wells Fargo. “Investing in UCLA LPPI and CNK will offer an in-depth view into how the public and private sectors can better support and accelerate access for business owners of color who will be at the forefront of building an inclusive economy.”
Research Professor Paul Ong, director of CNK, pointed to previous research from UCLA that has identified economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and produced insight into how society’s systems and institutions often work against the interests of people in disadvantaged communities. “With this funding, we will be able to pinpoint the exact systemic barriers and to generate the knowledge to remove them for future generations,” he said. “Equally important, new insights will inform new practices that create greater equity for people of color.”
Support from Wells Fargo will also enable UCLA LPPI and CNK to identify best practices in sustainability that small businesses can adopt to help them meet the challenges presented by climate change.
A KQED article featured new research from the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge on the rising incidence of anti-Asian hate crimes. The center collaborated with the California-based coalition Stop AAPI Hate to produce a report based on the findings of a national survey of Asian American and Pacific Islander employees. Those surveyed reported alarmingly high rates of hate incidents at their jobs, in addition to an overwhelming fear of being targeted at work. More than a quarter of the respondents said they experienced a hate incident at work in 2021, and more than 20% said they are reluctant to return to in-person work because they’re afraid they will be racially targeted. “It creates an atmosphere of fear when you go to work and you’re uncertain about what’s going to happen that day because you happen to be Asian American,” said Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge and a co-author of the report.
Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Associated Press about widespread concerns about gaps in the 2020 U.S. Census data. The U.S. Census is one of the most important surveys about how Americans live, typically receiving information from 3.5 million households about family life, education, income and employment, but the pandemic resulted in fewer responses being recorded. According to Ong, there are two potential problems with the undercount. “The first is not having comparable data to track longitudinal changes over time,” he said. “The second is a far bigger issue — that is, not having the data to examine the pandemic effects.” Many researchers are concerned that there will be a significant gap in data for a momentous year including the pandemic, natural disasters and social justice protests. “For us, it is important to examine which populations and neighborhoods were most hurt,” Ong said.
UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge Director Paul Ong was featured in a USA Today article about the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Black families. Black people are more than twice as likely to rent as white people, eliminating the safety net that comes with owning a home. Furthermore, Black renters are more likely to be low-income and cost burdened, the article noted. The pandemic exacerbated existing inequalities due to racial discrimination and historic inequities in education, employment and housing. “The pre-pandemic disadvantages that were there already – paying a higher share of one’s income to afford housing, having a much more precarious economic standing, not having the same financial fallback with huge differences in wealth and assets – those disadvantages during the pandemic got magnified,” Ong explained. “During the pandemic, our research and other people’s research clearly shows that African Americans were displaced at a much higher rate.”
Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, spoke to NBC News about the findings of a recent survey on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Asian-owned businesses. The survey of 400 Asian-owned businesses in Southern California found that a disproportionate number were forced to close their doors and fire staff during the pandemic. Ong explained that Asian-owned businesses tend to be in sectors that were the most impacted — such as food service, hospitality and retail — and that many of them didn’t have the money to keep their businesses open when profits took a nosedive. “The racism throughout the pandemic also led people to avoid businesses in Asian neighborhoods altogether,” Ong added. Many small businesses were unable to benefit from federal assistance programs due to language barriers and lack of outreach in Asian communities about the existence of such programs and their application processes.
UCLA Luskin’s Martin Gilens and Paul Ong shared insights on economic and political inequality and opportunity as part of a panel organized by the UCLA Anderson Forecast, a quarterly report that frames the economic outlook for California and the nation. Released Sept. 29, the latest report identified a shift from earlier forecasts, which had raised hopes for a blockbuster recovery as COVID-19 vaccines became widely available. Heading into the final quarter of 2021, these hopes have been tempered by the spread of the Delta variant and stagnating vaccination rates, which in turn have led to consumer caution. A panel of experts hosted by the Anderson Forecast brought context to these findings, with a focus on how income is distributed unevenly across the United States. Gilens, chair of UCLA Luskin Public Policy, said political and economic inequality are intertwined, resulting in policies that cater to moneyed interests. “Taming the role of money in American politics won’t be easy, especially with an unsympathetic Supreme Court, and … won’t by itself fix everything that ails our democracy,” Gilens said. “But it’s hard to see how we can fix American democracy without reducing the dominance of money in our politics.” Ong, director of UCLA’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, focused on race and ethnicity as factors in the job, food, housing and educational insecurity that persists across generations. “I would encourage my colleagues to think much more explicitly about the fundamentals of why race and racism exist within an economy,” he said. “Simply saying that everybody should have equal opportunity doesn’t make it so.”
View the Anderson Forecast presentation, including a keynote address by Mary C. Daly, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge Director Paul Ong spoke to KPCC and LAist about findings from a survey of members of the Asian Business Association of Los Angeles. More than 400 association members described how their businesses were faring, confirming Ong’s fears that Asian-owned businesses have disproportionately suffered during the pandemic, a trend that has been exacerbated by a surge in anti-Asian incidents. More than half of the survey respondents said they had to close at some point during the pandemic, and nearly a third said their operating capacity had dropped by more than 50%. “I actually believe this is a conservative estimate,” said Ong, pointing out that the negative impact might be even worse than the English-only survey was able to capture. “So many of the hardest-hit businesses are run by immigrants who don’t speak English as their first language,” he said. Ong recommended that policymakers prioritize targeted outreach offered in many languages to support Asian-owned businesses.
Director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge Paul Ong was featured in the Los Angeles Times, Associated Press and Long Beach Post discussing the results of the 2020 Census and its impact on communities of color. Accurate census counts are crucial for the distribution of federal aid and congressional representation, but Ong’s analysis of the census data suggests that Hispanic and Black populations may have been undercounted more than other groups. “There is strong evidence that undercounts in the 2020 census are worse than in past decades,” he said. Ong noted that renters, undocumented immigrants and low-income households were also undercounted, partially due to the disruption caused by the pandemic and the Trump administration’s attempt to include a citizenship question. “The big-picture implication is it will skew the redistricting process, our undercounted neighborhoods will be underrepresented, and populations that are undercounted will be shortchanged when it comes to the allocation of federal spending,” Ong concluded.
Prior to the 2020 U.S. census, many observers feared that large segments of the population would be undercounted. Those fears appear to have been realized, according to a UCLA analysis of the census data.
The study, conducted by the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, found that in Los Angeles County, residents in some neighborhoods were much more likely than others to be excluded from the 2020 census. Specifically, the research (PDF) concluded that — at the census-tract level — undercounts were most likely in areas where the majority of residents are Hispanic or Asian, have lower incomes, rent their homes or were born outside of the U.S.
Paul Ong, a research professor at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, and Jonathan Ong of Ong and Associates, a public-interest consulting firm, combed through data published Aug. 12 by the U.S. Census Bureau.
“The results are, unfortunately, consistent with our worst fear that the 2020 enumeration faced numerous potentially insurmountable barriers to a complete and accurate count,” Paul Ong said.
The research team compared the information to earlier population estimates drawn from the census bureau’s American Community Survey to determine whether and where the 2020 enumeration appeared to undercount or overcount the population within each neighborhood in Los Angeles County.
A key difference between the American Community Survey and the 2020 census, Paul Ong said, is that the COVID-19 pandemic severely affected data collection for the census. Previous research showed that disruption was particularly pronounced in disadvantaged neighborhoods. That appears to have created a “differential undercount,” meaning that some populations were more likely than other groups not to be counted. That, in turn, means that the scope of ethnic diversity and demographic change in cities like Los Angeles could be significantly underestimated, he said.
Based on comparisons between the latest census data and the most recent American Community Survey estimates, the UCLA study found that in Los Angeles County:
- Predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods are most likely to have the largest undercounts in the census.
- Neighborhoods with the greatest percentage of people living below the poverty line were most likely to have undercounts.
- Neighborhoods with larger percentages of renters, as opposed to homeowners, were more likely to have undercounts.
- Census tracts in which most people are U.S.-born were more likely to be accurately counted than predominantly immigrant neighborhoods.
The pandemic wasn’t the only factor that hampered data collection for the 2020 census. The effort was also adversely affected by the Trump administration’s highly publicized push to include a citizenship question on the questionnaire. Although that effort was ultimately unsuccessful, Paul Ong said the controversy may have depressed participation among immigrants, whether they were undocumented or not.
“The findings indicate that the needless politicization of the 2020 enumeration seriously dampened participation by those targeted by the Trump administration,” he said.
Problems with the self-reporting aspect of the census placed greater pressure on the subsequent on-the-ground outreach in which census-takers canvassed nonresponding households. The success of that follow-up drive will not be known until a post-census analysis is conducted, which is scheduled for 2022.
The UCLA analysis is consistent with results from previous studies that have shown undercounts likelier to occur in disadvantaged communities. How residents are counted is important because census results influence legislative redistricting and government spending, which means the results can have serious political and economic implications.
“Given the analysis, it is imperative that we address the inequality in the census to ensure fair political representation in redistricting,” Paul Ong said.
Unlike previous corrective efforts, which address census undercounts based on national statistics and results from a comparatively small number of districts, the UCLA research relied on data specific to each neighborhood. As a result, Paul Ong said, the new approach should be more accurate and precise, and it could ultimately help officials understand how to adjust population statistics to account for the differential bias in completing the 2020 census and future counts.
Undercounts are of most concern, but the technique could also help identify overcounts, which are rarer but can occur. Military redeployments may lead to overcounts, for example; other situations include some students who get counted twice while splitting time between home and college, and miscounts of people with second homes or people who experience a stay in a nursing home while also holding a permanent residence.
Ong & Associates, of which Paul Ong is the founder, provided services pro bono for the study.