Digital Divide Among U.S. Schoolchildren Is Deepening, Report Finds

A new report by the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin measures the digital divide in American schools, which threatens to undermine the educational achievement of low-income and minority students for years to come. Disparities in access to computers and adequate internet service predate COVID-19 but have deepened since the pandemic’s outbreak, the study found. The analysis used data from the U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey covering the latter part of the 2019-2020 school year, when schools were forced to halt in-person learning. All groups experienced some challenges in providing adequate computer access and internet service for children’s educational purposes, but the difficulties were greatest in Hispanic, Black, low-income and younger households, according to the study. It also found a link between the lack of access to technology and the parents’ level of educational attainment. Researchers are currently assessing data from the start of the 2020-2021 school year to identify lingering disparities. The study, conducted in collaboration with the public interest research group Ong & Associates, aims to guide educators and policymakers in formulating effective programs to ensure a fair and equitable school system. “It is essential for elected officials and business leaders to act now to address the potential long-term social and economic effects of this health crisis,” the report’s authors said. “This is true especially given the added challenge the pandemic places on minority, low-income, less educated and young families trying to educate their children to succeed in the new information age.”


Ong on Fallout From a Flawed Census

Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, spoke to KCRW’s Press Play about flaws in the 2020 Census, which has been cut short by two weeks. Ong said that, 10 years ago, about 5% of households responding to the census provided inaccurate information. “I suspect it’s going to be much worse this time around given the pandemic and given the politicization of the whole process,” he said. Ong also responded to the Trump administration’s efforts to subtract undocumented immigrants from census totals. The policy would deepen the political alienation of a broad group of people, including people of color, low-income populations and immigrants who are in the country legally but who are not yet citizens, Ong said. It would also drain political and economic resources from disadvantaged neighborhoods, with “long-term implications for who gets what and who’s left out.”


Ong on Pandemic’s Blow to Mom-and-Pop Businesses

Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times for a column about the COVID-19 pandemic’s toll on independent booksellers and other mom-and-pop operations that are part of the city’s historical identity. Ong’s research looks at specific neighborhoods, and preliminary trends show that small businesses in ethnic enclaves have been particularly hard-hit. “We’re talking to some community folks close to the ground who are saying that many of these businesses will not be back,” Ong said. In some ethnic neighborhoods, merchants didn’t appear to have access to financial resources, or language barriers kept them from making full use of government assistance, he said. Ong noted, however, that largely Latino Boyle Heights has fared pretty well, possibly because major hospitals in the neighborhood help anchor the micro-economy. COVID-19’s impact on ethnic communities is felt nationwide. An NBC News article on Asian Americans struggling in New York City also highlighted Ong’s research.  

Ong on Prospects for Rectifying Census Count

Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, gave KCRW’s Greater L.A. program an update on the 2020 Census. In a year upended by the COVID-19 pandemic and partisan recriminations, many fear a serious undercount that will deny vulnerable populations fair political representation and access to both public and private funding. Ong called for the mobilization of independent third parties to conduct followup research that identifies the neighborhoods and populations that have been left out so that the official count can be adjusted. “After the census, after the enumeration, we need to do serious analysis and serious research to understand the patterns of undercount,” he said. “Clearly, the Census Bureau should be doing that, but I don’t think they would do an adequate job.” Ong also spoke to the Orange County Register about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to allow the count to be halted immediately, noting, “Is our goal to count everyone, to be inclusive? … It’s important to establish that fact.”

Ong Discusses Rising Asian American Unemployment

Research Professor Paul Ong was featured in on NPR’s Morning Edition discussing the disproportionate rise in unemployment among Asian Americans. The jobless rate of Asian Americans was lower than that of whites, Blacks or Latinos last year at 2.8%, but it rose above the rate of whites and Latinos to 15% in May. Ong explained that “people are avoiding [areas like Chinatown] because of this myth that somehow Asian Americans are tied in with the spread of coronavirus,” leading to an earlier and deeper drop in foot and vehicle traffic in Chinatown compared to the city’s other commercial neighborhoods. While immigrant communities can provide support and opportunities in ordinary times, Ong said that over-reliance on those networks can be a trap during a crisis like the pandemic. “Certainly that is untrue and unfair, but there’s no question that it gets reflected in the impact on the ethnic economy,” he said.

Ong on Prospects for Asian American Political Awakening

NBC News spoke to Research Professor Paul Ong for a story on prospects for an Asian American political awakening fueled by the Nov. 3 election. Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang has called on Asian Americans to vote, donate, volunteer and run for office in order to “realize our place in this country and our potential,” the story noted. No single candidate can mobilize an entire voting bloc, Ong said. But he added that Asian Americans are confronting surging unemployment and discrimination and “they cannot ignore that President Trump is a driver of the anti-Asian narrative.” Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, was also quoted in another NBC News story on polls showing that the fast-growing Asian American electorate favors Democratic candidate Joe Biden, although the support among younger voters is not enthusiastic.

Ong on Questions Surrounding Political Interference in Census Count

An ABC News report on questions surrounding the shortened timeline for the 2020 Census cited Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin. The Commerce Department’s internal watchdog has determined that the decision to halt census data collection early did not come from the U.S. Census Bureau and suggested that the possibility of political interference is being investigated. “Clearly, there are political motivations to change the timeline,” said Ong, a former Census Bureau adviser who has conducted extensive research into this year’s count. “It’s going to lead to a substantial undercounting of low-income people and people of color, and the political implication to that is very clear: By excluding them from the count, you also bias the reapportionment process and the redistricting process.” He added, “I’m not surprised if this is true because politicians play politics, and certainly one could play politics with the census to skew and bias the outcomes in their favor.”

Ong Foresees Rippling Effect of Census Undercount

Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, spoke to USA Today about low response rates to the census in low-income and minority neighborhoods. The COVID-19 pandemic, lack of internet access and a timeline that was shortened by the U.S. Census Bureau have made it more difficult to get accurate population counts in hard-to-reach neighborhoods. “My biggest fear, and my estimate, is that we’re headed towards an extremely flawed census,” Ong said. While the Census Bureau has assured that it will be able to close the gap on undercounted populations, Ong said he would like to see evidence that confirms the reliability of these efforts. Census results are used to distribute congressional seats and federal funding, so undercounting can take a significant toll on a community. “The large and growing racial and income differences have a rippling effect downstream for other operations, creating more challenges and hurdles,” Ong concluded.

Research Shows Deep Racial and Social Inequality in Job Displacement, Unemployment Insurance Amid COVID-19

New research published by the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK) at UCLA Luskin and Ong & Associates shows large nationwide racial and socioeconomic disparities in job displacement caused by the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report, co-authored by Paul Ong, research professor and CNK director, examines racial and social inequality in job displacement resulting from COVID-19, including the inability to collect unemployment-insurance (UI) benefits. The researchers looked at U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey data that directly measured the effect of COVID-19 on job losses compared to the more general unemployment rate, which does not distinguish between pandemic and non-pandemic reasons for unemployment. Minority groups, lower-income and less educated workers, and the youngest workers are most severely affected. Here are some of the major findings:

  1. Although Black and Latinx workers are both more adversely affected by the pandemic, Latinx workers are highly impacted. Latinx workers account for 1 out of 4 displaced workers without UI benefits, although they make up 1 out of 6 employed workers.
  2. Displaced workers from households earning less than $25,000 per year account for 31% of the displaced workers without UI, yet they make up only 10.6% of the employed workers.
  3. Workers with no more than a high school education comprise almost half of all displaced workers who do not receive UI, although they represent only a third of employed workers.
  4. Younger workers are more likely to be displaced. Thirty percent of all displaced workers without UI are between the ages of 18 and 30 , but they make up  22% of the employed.

CNK Documents Racial Inequalities Among Homeowners Due to Pandemic

A new report by the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK) at UCLA Luskin highlights how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected homeowners’ inability to pay mortgages, signaling an unprecedented housing crisis and revealing huge racial disparities among homeowners. Researchers from the center, led by Paul Ong, research professor and CNK director, partnered with the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate and Ong & Associates to produce research as part of a series of COVID-19 policy briefs documenting the systemic racial inequalities of the pandemic. The new report, “Systemic Racial Inequality and the COVID-19 Homeowner Crisis,” analyzes data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s weekly Household Pulse Survey, collected between April and July 2020, to examine the magnitude, pattern and causes of the housing crisis. The authors report that about 5 million, or 8%, of American homeowners were unable to pay their mortgage on time. In comparison, during the Great Recession, there were approximately 3.8 million foreclosures; early-stage delinquent mortgages (for 30 to 59 days) peaked at 3%. “Compared with non-Hispanic whites, Black people and Hispanics (or Latinx) had two to three times higher odds of experiencing housing hardships,” the researchers noted. “This systematic inequality is produced by pre-existing income and educational inequalities, and reinforced by the disparate impacts of COVID-19 on the labor market,” according to the report. The rising number of homeowners currently struggling to pay their mortgages is an ominous indication that this may lead to more foreclosures, housing instability and homelessness, the researchers wrote.