Ong Highlights Economic Obstacles Facing Asian Americans

Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, was cited in Los Angeles Times and USA Today articles about economic hardships among Asian Americans in the United States. Many hotels, restaurants, shopping centers and beauty salons were forced to close at the beginning of the pandemic, and a report by Ong found that Asian Americans accounted for one in four workers within those sectors. Now, long-term unemployment levels among Asian Americans have been exacerbated by a surge in anti-Asian sentiment. Among all racial and ethnic groups in the United States, Asians have the largest income gap between the top and bottom 10%, and this trend has been accelerated by the economic shutdown caused by the pandemic. Ong explained that Los Angeles’ Chinatown “was hit earlier, even before the lockdowns, and it lost much more business and has recovered much more slowly,” a trend also seen in New York and San Francisco.

Ong on Increasing Asian American Representation in Biden Administration

Director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge Paul Ong spoke to NBC News about his hopes for increasing Asian American representation in the Biden administration. The White House announced the creation of a new position, Asian American and Pacific Islander liaison, to ensure that the community’s voice is further represented and heard. Details of the duties and responsibilities of the position have not yet been announced, but Ong said the liaison will be effective only if given direct access to key decision-makers in the administration. In addition, he said, a staff is needed to ensure coverage of vital issues to the AAPI community, including education, civil rights, the economy and housing. “Appointing an AAPI liaison could be one of the much-needed solutions to ensure fair and adequate AAPI participation in the administration, but it is critical that the role is impactful and not window dressing,” he said.

Report Highlights Pandemic’s Racial Disparities

A San Diego Union-Tribune article cited a report by the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy and Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK) that highlighted the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Latinos and other minorities in California. Latinos account for nearly half of the San Diego County residents infected by COVID-19 in the past year, but only 1 in 5 people vaccinated so far are Latino. CNK Director Paul Ong authored the report, which found that “Blacks and Latinos in California were more than twice as likely to have trouble making monthly rent payments than white people.” The report also pointed out that 23% of those who could not pay rent in the initial months of the pandemic were Black and 20% were Latino. “These systematic racial or ethno-racial disparities are the product of systemic inequality,” Ong wrote. “People of color, low-income individuals, and those with less education and skills are most at risk.”

Asian American Businesses Hit Disproportionately Hard, Ong Finds

A report co-authored by Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, was featured in a CNN article about combating anti-Asian hate and racism. Asian Americans have been the victims of verbal, physical and economic attacks across the country. One study found that anti-Asian hate crimes have more than doubled during the pandemic. Ong’s report, a collaboration between the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge and the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, summarized the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Asian Americans. The report explained that Asian American businesses felt the economic impact of the pandemic earlier and more deeply than others because of xenophobia and racialized blaming. “Unemployment severely impacted the more disadvantaged Asian Americans,” Ong wrote. While many businesses have struggled during the pandemic, discrimination has exacerbated the impact on Asian American businesses.

Built Environment Vulnerability and COVID-19

In response to the current public health crisis and racial climate, the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge launched the COVID-19 Equity Research Initiative in March 2020 to analyze systemic inequality and the pandemic’s impact on the way we live, work, learn, shop, and socialize. The Initiative’s early efforts have empirically and quantitatively examined the direct and indirect impacts of COVID-19 on people and neighborhoods. Newer efforts focus on research to inform a just recovery.

In this seminar, research professor and CNK Director Professor Paul Ong will present a talk that builds on the Initiative’s body of work examining the possible relationship between infections and the built environment (crowding, household composition, building density, neighborhood density, and availability of open space).  We hope you can join us!

Black Mayors and Leadership In the United States

Can America rewrite its future? As part of a timely virtual series, Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka offers answers on the #wealthgap. Presented by the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues and the Department of African American Studies and African Diaspora Studies at UC Berkeley with the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Paul Ong, research professor and director of the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, will discuss “The Wealth Gap” on Wednesday, March 10 at 12 PM PST with Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka and other panelists on the second part of this series “Black Mayors & Leadership in the United States.”

For more details, access the event page here at:

Register for the FREE virtual event here at:


Ong on COVID-19 Relief for Vulnerable Businesses

Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Marketplace about new rules guiding the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program. Since its inception, the COVID-19 relief program has distributed more than $600 billion in business loans, but those funds have disproportionately gone to larger, more established companies that are better able to navigate the application process. So for two weeks, the PPP will be open only to the smallest companies, ones that employ fewer than 20 people. While the change is an attempt to level the playing field, Ong said that prioritizing according to company size alone won’t address all disparities. He recommended targeting businesses in vulnerable neighborhoods, as previous rounds of PPP funding favored majority-white neighborhoods in California over communities of color. “I would like to see much more fine-tuning in terms of, how do we prioritize?” Ong said.

Ong on Barriers to Securing Unemployment Benefits

Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, spoke to KQED about hurdles faced by marginalized communities attempting to secure unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ong cited the steep escalation of unemployment among Asian Americans, particularly less-educated, low-wage and immigrant workers. In addition to technology challenges, these groups face a significant language gap, he said. “If you go, for example, to California’s unemployment insurance website, it’s in English and there’s also a button for Spanish, but there’s no button for other languages,” he said. “They may provide other material so deeply embedded in the website I couldn’t find it. If I couldn’t find it, other people can’t.” Ong urged the state Employment Development Department to work closely with community groups and researchers “to understand in much more detail the magnitude and the patterns of these inequalities and what’s driving it.” The article provided several resources that provide multilingual assistance in applying for unemployment benefits.


Ong on Pandemic’s Threat to Chinatown’s Survival

Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Reuters about the dramatic drop in businesses suffered by Chinatowns worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic. As they mark the Lunar New Year, many Chinatown businesses are struggling to stay open, partly due to xenophobia, Ong said. His research studied smartphone data to determine that Los Angeles’ Chinatown experienced an earlier and sharper drop in foot traffic than other areas even prior to the lockdown. Language and cultural barriers, limited digital literacy and socioeconomic disadvantages have prevented many Chinatown business owners from obtaining financial aid, he added. “It’s part of a systemic inequality that we’re seeing. We need to pay attention to helping these neighborhoods survive,” Ong said. “One of the most vibrant aspects of cities is diversity — diversity of culture and diversity of lifestyles. And if we lose that, it just makes the city as a whole a poorer place.”


Study Finds Challenges in Identifying Smaller At-Risk Groups for Pandemic Relief

Delivering COVID-19 vaccines and other pandemic relief to certain small ethnic populations in California may be a particular challenge for a somewhat ironic reason: Many members of those groups do not live in neighborhoods that have been identified as being highly vulnerable to virus transmission. A new UCLA study looked at five ethnic groups — American Indians, Pacific Islanders, Cambodians, Filipinos and Koreans — which, current data suggests, have higher-than-average rates of COVID-19 infections or deaths. Led by Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, the study examined four data models that public policy and health policy officials typically rely on to decide how to distribute resources. Researchers found that the models do not properly consider factors such as underlying racial inequities and socioeconomic status. “The data we’ve been compiling show that Pacific Islander and other smaller Asian groups are two to three times more likely than non-Latinx white workers to be essential workers, who are at a higher risk of being exposed during a pandemic,” said Ninez Ponce, director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, a partner in the study. “But they have received less attention because their numbers are fewer.” The study concluded that officials should look beyond geographic measures to address specific pandemic-related goals and relief efforts. “It would be great to pinpoint for state and local policymakers where the vaccines should go to help these vulnerable populations,” Ong said. ”Unfortunately, it’s not that easy, because they are a hidden diaspora and not tied to a geographic place.” — Elaiza Torralba