Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee and Research Professor Paul Ong co-authored a commentary in Indian Country Today about the University of California’s decision to waive tuition for Native American students. “Not only will the plan begin to address some of the education barriers that marginalize American Indian and Alaska Native people, it is also an acknowledgement that UC has benefited enormously from the sale of lands that were stolen through various means from Indigenous peoples,” they wrote. Campuses in the UC system are located on parcels that rightfully belong to tribal nations and communities, they wrote, noting the role of the Morrill Act in the creation of land-grant colleges resourced by the sale of federal lands. The authors hope that the new program will “help to close the persistent educational attainment gap suffered by American Indians and Alaska Natives” and serve as a call to action to other public, land-grant institutions in the United States.
Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, has received the 2020-2021 Haagen-Smit Clean Air Award from the California Air Resources Board. Ong is one of six individuals from around the world to receive the honor, which recognizes career accomplishments related to air quality and climate change. Ong was cited for his work on matters of community service and environmental justice. “Professor Ong’s more than 100 publications addressing racial inequalities have had an outsized influence on concerns for environmental justice,” the board said in announcing the award. “He has worked for more than three decades as a scientist and educator on interdisciplinary social science and environmental teaching, policy-focused research and community engagement.” The Haagen-Smit Clean Air Awards will be presented today at 9 a.m. PDT at a California Air Resources Board meeting that will be webcast via Cal-Span. Later in the day, the board will host the Clean Air Leadership Talks featuring presentations on the work of the six award recipients, who are known for their accomplishments in the field of air quality and climate science, environmental policy and environmental justice. The talks will be livestreamed beginning at 2 p.m. and available for viewing later on the board’s YouTube channel. The award program was named after Arie J. Haagen-Smit, a native of Utrecht in the Netherlands, who was a leader in developing air quality standards based on his research efforts. Due to a hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic, this set of prizes is for the combined years of 2020 and 2021.
Director of the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge Paul Ong was featured in a Los Angeles Times article about long-standing barriers to socioeconomic mobility in South Los Angeles. For decades, residents of South Los Angeles have faced lack of employment opportunities, housing and labor discrimination, and subpar education access. “If you look overall and compare it over a half-century, it’s rather depressing that we have not made the progress that people have hoped for,” Ong said, noting a particular lack of significant improvements in public education. Now, an influx of new commercial and residential development is threatening to displace current residents of the area. Ong’s research found that the racial disparities in income among South L.A. households are even more stark than in the rest of L.A. County. White households in South L.A. had a median income of $84,000, compared with $48,000 for Latino households and $36,000 for Black households.
Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee spoke to CNN about the University of California’s recent decision to waive tuition for Native American students in an effort to make the university system more affordable and accessible. As part of the UC Native American Opportunity Plan, tuition and fees will be waived for California residents who are members of federally recognized Native American, American Indian and Alaska Native tribes. Akee collaborated with UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge Director Paul Ong and other scholars on a soon-to-be-published op-ed urging other land-grant universities to follow UC’s lead. “The UC system is leading the way in acknowledging its place and role in educating Indigenous people,” the authors wrote. “In the absence of similar programs in other locations, the UC system as a whole will gain a significant advantage in recruiting the best and brightest [American Indian or Alaska Native] students from around the country.”
Director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge Paul Ong spoke to the Christian Science Monitor about race relations and criminal justice reform in the 30 years since the police beating of Rodney King and the resulting L.A. riots. For many people, economic and social conditions have stayed the same or gotten worse in the last three decades. In the report “South Los Angeles Since the Sixties,” Ong and his colleagues found that many of the area’s residents were disenchanted over justice delayed and persistent discrimination, racism and unequal access to economic opportunity. Ong noted that racial segregation continues in South Los Angeles today and many African Americans are migrating to the exurbs in search of better schools, jobs and more affordable housing. He also pointed out that the Latino population is growing but remains on the bottom rung of the economic ladder, while white and Asian people are moving in, along with gentrification.
UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge Director Paul Ong spoke to USA Today about the impact of the pandemic on economic mobility and prosperity, particularly within communities of color. According to data from the Census Bureau, economic prospects improved for Americans across racial and ethnic demographics in the second half of the 2010s, but the pandemic halted much of that progress. Economic gains were not spread equally among income classes, and significant financial gaps still exist. “I think overall the economy became much more unequal in terms of, after you account for the business cycle, the distribution of earnings,” Ong said. “So, you have that counterforce working and quite often that increase in inequality takes on a racial dimension.” He also pointed out that the unemployment rate increased for all demographic groups during the pandemic, but the steepest increase in joblessness was experienced by Black and Hispanic workers.
Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Associated Press about the U.S. Census Bureau’s report that the nation’s Asian population was overcounted by 2.6% in 2020. Overcounts occur when people are counted twice, such as college students being counted on campus and at their parents’ homes. Another explanation is that biracial and multiracial residents may have identified as Asian in larger numbers than in the past. Some multiracial people who previously indicated on the census form that they were white, Black or another race may have selected Asian in 2020 amid a rise in anti-Asian attacks during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ong said. “When that happens, people who are multiracial go in two directions: They reject their minority identity or they embrace it,” he said. “With the rise of anti-Asian hostility, it forced some multiracial Asians to select a single identity.”
UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge Director Paul Ong spoke to the Riverside Press-Enterprise about demographic shifts in Southern California as a result of the pandemic and the affordable housing crisis. The population of Los Angeles County has been declining for years as part of a statewide mass migration from coastal to inland counties and into other states. The pandemic exacerbated this trend, allowing many people to leave areas with high housing costs but keep their jobs with work-from-home freedom. While there could be some short-term positives, “in the long run it’s going to hurt our economy” if housing costs stay so high that they put artificial constraints on the population, Ong said. “We’re robbing ourselves from growing in a positive way. It’s not a desirable outcome.” He added, “Patterns we’ve seen are a warning to us, highlighting structural problems that existed in California before the pandemic — deep problems we need to solve.”
By Jessica Wolf
California has extended eviction protections to June 30 for hundreds of thousands of renters made vulnerable by the pandemic’s economic disruptions, yet tens of thousands of renters who might need assistance remain either unaware of the program or face barriers to applying.
This problem is especially acute among tens of thousands of low-income Asian and Latino households that are behind on rent and have not yet applied, according to a new UCLA report (PDF).
“We find that not much has changed since the onset of the pandemic — lower-income people and people of color are disproportionately struggling to pay the rent,” said Paul Ong, director of UCLA’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, who led the study.
The state currently has an enormous backlog of applicants attempting to access California’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which launched in spring 2020. More than half a million California renters have applied to the state’s relief program as of March 29, 2022.
To gauge how effective the rental assistance program has been, researchers from Ong’s center, along with colleagues from UCLA’s Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, Asian American Studies Center and Chicano Studies Research Center, examined the U.S. Census Bureau’s weekly Household Pulse Survey data gathered from July 21, 2021, to Jan. 10, 2022. They then compared it to publicly available information about renters who have applied for California’s rental assistance program.
The researchers found that Asian and Latino households are severely underrepresented among those who have managed to receive rent relief, compared to non-Latino white renters, even when accounting for income, age and metropolitan area of residence.
The report’s authors are calling for lawmakers to consider maintaining benefit programs like rental assistance and other safety-net initiatives until unemployment numbers for people of color in California drop below pre-pandemic levels.
“These findings reveal that funds have not been equitably distributed to those with the greatest needs,” said Melany De La Cruz-Viesca MA UP ’02, deputy director of the Asian American Studies Center.
Asian American renters had the lowest application rate for rental assistance, the report found. Only 25% of rent-distressed Asian American households applied for relief, compared to almost 50% of white renters and 64% of Black renters. The second-lowest application rate was among rent-distressed Latinos at only 39%. Rent-distressed is defined in the report as households that reported being behind on rent or would otherwise have been without assistance.
While 21% of white households and 20% of Black households received rent relief from the program, just 11% of Asian households and 14% of Latino households did.
Overall, the report notes that an estimated 14% of California renters are behind on their rent and 15% fear facing the threat of eviction. Roughly 10 times as many low-income renters are behind on their rent, compared to upper-income renters (21% compared to 2%, respectively). More than twice as many Asian American, Black and Latino renters are struggling to keep up relative to their white counterparts.
“We believe that the inequality facing Asians and Latinos is due in part to language barriers, citizenship status, access to technology and lack of robust community information,” said Urban Planning Professor Veronica Terriquez, director of the Chicano Studies Research Center.
The report notes that the Census’ Household Pulse Survey is not conducted in any Asian languages, further limiting information about how Asian American households are faring as the pandemic enters a third calendar year.
The most potent thing California lawmakers can do, the report stresses, is indefinitely extend the rental assistance and other safety net programs such as utility shut-off protection and food security programs, until unemployment rates for all racial groups fall below pre-pandemic rates.
Overall, around 60% of distressed renters in California either did not apply to rent-relief programs even though they struggled to keep up with rent or they applied and were denied relief, the report found.
“Part and parcel with that is designing and expanding programs to reach eligible renters, including funding community-based organizations as trusted messengers,” said Silvia González MURP ’13 Ph.D. ’20, director of research for the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative. “We believe there are a significant number of distressed renters who are unaware of the emergency assistance program or are afraid to apply.”
UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge Director Paul Ong spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the decline in California’s population, largely driven by lower immigration, fewer births and pandemic deaths. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, California experienced a net loss of 262,000 residents between July 1, 2020, and July 1, 2021, mostly from Los Angeles County. Ong pointed out that while the COVID-19 pandemic probably played a role in less immigration, the number of international migrants has been steadily declining for several years. “It’s a combination of those things, but certainly it was happening before the pandemic,” Ong said. “In some ways, it’s part of what we see historically in terms of immigrants — that they do settle and cluster in a few areas and cities, but over time they move away.” Ong said that a shrinking population can have a negative effect on the local economy and result in a decrease in the number of skilled workers in a region.