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.
UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge Director Paul Ong spoke to the Associated Press about ways to address flaws in how the U.S. Census is conducted. The Census Bureau found that Black, Hispanic, American Indian and other minority residents were undercounted at greater rates in 2020 than in the previous decade, prompting discussion about ways to better measure changes in the U.S. population. In 2020, the Trump administration unsuccessfully attempted to use administrative records to determine the number of people in the country illegally in order to influence the allocation of congressional seats. Ong noted that any effort to revamp how the count is conducted will need to be protected from similar efforts to misuse the count for political purposes. “The 2020 enumeration was a wakeup call,” Ong said. “The Census Bureau has a very important and fundamental function in our society. It is the keeper of our demographic truths.”
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.