Latino Policy and Politics Initiative Executive Director Sonja Diaz authored an opinion piece in the California Health Report about disparities in the American health care system. “The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed immense inequities across our health care systems, from coverage gaps to preexisting health conditions,” Diaz wrote. These inequities are felt most acutely by communities of color, she said, calling for urgent action to address the physician shortage and “diversify the field to include more doctors who share language, ethnicity and cultural norms with their patients.” Despite the diversity of the American population, communities of color remain underrepresented in health and medical occupations, which hinders physicians’ abilities to build trust with patients. “Expanding and diversifying our physician pool is a necessary infrastructure investment,” Diaz wrote. She suggested increasing opportunities for Americans to enter health professions by expanding federal scholarships and prioritizing students committed to serving in medically underserved areas for grant funding.
NPR’s All Things Considered spoke with Sonja Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin, about California’s Latino electorate. The state’s Latinos skew younger and more Democratic than Latinos in many other regions, Diaz said, but “by and large, Latino voters care about the same things in California that they do in Texas — good jobs and good health care.” Civil society organizations, rather than the Democratic Party, did the bulk of the work to get out the vote to block the recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom, she said. “The fact that these voters came out, it was because of these community-based organizers that really put a message that was distinct from either party,” a message that focused on values steeped in data science and strong policy rather than xenophobia, Diaz said. “That was very persuasive to these voters. And by and large, now they’re likely voters going into the 2022 midterm elections.”
Sonja Diaz, executive director of UCLA’s Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, spoke to CBS News about the importance of engaging Latino voters, who make up nearly 28% of the California electorate. Latinos’ priorities are largely dependent on where they live, Diaz said. “Los Angeles County was the epicenter of COVID 19. … In places like the Central Valley, you could see the closure of small businesses. In other places throughout the state, it’s issues of housing insecurity,” she said, advising campaigns and political parties to “meet Latino voters where they are and actually have the nuanced messaging that is geographical tailored.” In many diverse communities, trusted messengers such as medical professionals at local clinics are key in communicating that protecting one’s health and casting a ballot are important acts of civic engagement. “You need to identify the people that diverse households are going to respond to, especially since there is this plethora of misinformation and disinformation that target these households,” Diaz said.
Sonja Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke with KPBS about changes to California’s policies to combat COVID-19 if Gov. Gavin Newsom is removed from office — including potential cuts in funding to deal with the pandemic. “We know who suffers when bad policy exists … and that’s Black and brown communities who have borne the brunt of the health and wealth impacts of this pandemic,” she said. “One need only look at states like Arizona, Georgia and Florida for the role of a governor who’s anti-science in dealing with the pandemic.” Diaz also spoke to the Associated Press about the electoral power of Latinos, who now make up 40% of California’s population but are less likely to vote than other groups. And she spoke with Spectrum News about the importance of investing in turnout to motivate people of color to vote.
Latinos in non-union jobs were seven times more likely than Latinos in labor unions to fall into unemployment during three key months early in the pandemic, according to a new report by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative.
The report also found that Black and Latino union workers had higher wages than their counterparts in non-union jobs during the pandemic, but that both groups still received lower pay than white workers in union jobs.
Following previous studies demonstrating that Latinos faced disproportionate public health and economic consequences during the pandemic, the new report highlights the benefits that labor unions can provide to vulnerable workers during an economic crisis, said Sonja Diaz, the founding director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative.
“Labor unions gave us child labor regulations, work-free weekends and the collective power to demand better conditions,” Diaz said. “Our report shows that during economic downturns such as the one we faced amid COVID-19, union jobs can also provide much-needed stability for workers and their families.”
The report’s authors analyzed data from the Current Population Survey, which is conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, to understand the impact of the pandemic on employment rates, wages and union protections between January 2020 and June 2021. The time frame was chosen so the researchers could compare conditions from the outset of the pandemic in the U.S., the months of uncertainty that followed and the time period when policy actions began to spur an economic recovery.
Unionized workers of all races and ethnicities were less likely than non-union workers to experience job loss during the height of the economic downturn, but the report found that the effect was most pronounced among Latinos. For example, from April to June 2020, the employment rate for Latinos in labor unions fell by only 2.5%, while the employment rate for all union workers declined by 10.2%. During the same period, the employment rate for Latinos who were not in labor unions declined by 18.5%, representing a loss of nearly 4.3 million jobs.
Diaz said the nation’s economic recovery is inextricably tied to how well Latinos can bounce back from the setbacks they experienced during the pandemic. The report recommends policy actions including passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2021, a bill that would make it harder for employers to obstruct organizing efforts. The legislation is currently awaiting action in the U.S. Senate.
“The economic devastation spurred by COVID-19 made it clear that it’s essential to build more resiliency and strengthen wages for the nation’s workers, particularly for groups that are most vulnerable during a crisis,” said UCLA research analyst Misael Galdamez, the report’s lead author. “Unionization is an important tool to give workers the economic stability and dignity that they deserve.”
Previous research by the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative has examined other aspects of how the pandemic has affected the nation’s economy and labor force, including one study which found that Latinas were more likely to drop out of the workforce than workers from other demographic groups.
Latino Policy and Politics Initiative Director Sonja Diaz spoke to KQED about the importance of engaging Latino voters. Many Democratic candidates have come to rely on support from Latino communities, but recent elections have highlighted political shifts among Latino voters, including increased support for former President Donald Trump. “Where the Republican Party did invest, there were some shifts and that included some minority voters,” Diaz said. “That does not necessitate that Latinos … are somehow more Republican than they ever have been, but it provides this really clear and explicit recognition that in order to engage them, you have to actually invest in them.” Diaz said Trump’s increase in popularity among Latinos during the pandemic can be attributed to his pivot from the anti-Latino tenor of his first campaign. Diaz also spoke to KPBS and the Los Angeles Times about increasing voter turnout, especially in Latino communities, to block the recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Sonja Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Univision about the political power of the growing Latino electorate. Newly released data from the 2020 Census confirmed that the non-Hispanic white population shrunk the most over the last decade in the United States while the populations identifying as Hispanic, Latino or multiracial grew. According to Diaz, the census data is integral to political voice and ensuring fair redistricting. “When we redraw the lines, we should see Latino political voice and political power protected under the Voting Rights Act and their ability to elect their candidate of choice,” Diaz said. While the census’ undercount of some communities is still unclear, Diaz predicted that the United States will continue to see population growth among Asian Americans and Latinos in the next few decades.
The UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative has received an 18-month, $2.5 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The funding will support two new research databases that will help identify and analyze the unique public policy issues surrounding Latinos.
Ultimately, research based on the information in the databases should help decision-makers in the public, private and nonprofit sectors understand how policies that improve the lives of Latinos will benefit the entire nation.
“As the largest non-white minority group in the United States, Latinos are integral to building a prosperous future for all Americans,” said Sonja Diaz, founding director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative. “Yet Latinos face significant barriers to economic opportunity, political representation and social mobility. This funding will enable us to reliably collect data that brings Latinos and the issues that impact them out of the shadows and to create real policy solutions that build a truly inclusive economy and democracy.”
Both databases will be freely available to policymakers, advocates, scholars and the public as a comprehensive resource to broaden understanding of issues affecting the Latino community.
The first database, the Latino Data Hub, will contain data from verified sources on demographics, socioeconomics and civic participation that will help policymakers, community organizations, philanthropists and businesses design and promote policies that benefit Latino communities.
Drawing on UCLA’s unparalleled depth of expertise on issues that impact the Latino community, the database is intended to become a go-to resource for national, state and local data. It also will include statistics and information on climate change and the environment, economic opportunity and social mobility, education, health and housing, all of which contribute to Latino well-being.
As it evolves, the hub will enable users to track progress and setbacks in efforts to ensure a more equitable nation for Latinos.
The importance of clear, reliable and actionable data on Latino communities has been demonstrated repeatedly by the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, particularly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past 18 months, the group has produced research reports focusing on safe access to voting, the costs of excluding undocumented workers from socioeconomic relief programs, and other critical issues.
“The global pandemic has laid bare long-standing inequities that permeate virtually all our systems and institutions,” said Ciciley Moore, program officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. “It also opened a door of opportunity to correct this legacy of inequity, and now is the time to be proactive in building the future we want. Investing in the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative to provide cutting-edge data and research resources means investing in the future where equity is realized.”
The second database, the Latino Research Redistricting Hub, will include statistical, geographic and historical data and analyses to help illuminate how the drawing of state and federal electoral maps affects Latino communities. Redistricting impacts a wide range of issues, from the number of parks in a neighborhood to congressional representation, and the hub will be a resource for officials engaged in redistricting decisions. Its goal is to ensure fair representation in politics and government for the nation’s diverse Latino communities.
“Before we can address inequity, we must tell the truth about our conditions, and that is what data does,” Moore said. “We are proud to invest in creating tools that help us see our biggest challenges clearly and identify equitable solutions that enable us all to thrive.”
Other recent research by the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative has highlighted the growing political power of the Latino electorate and paths to creating long-term engagement among Latino voters. The initiative also helped secure court victories around voting rights in Texas and Pennsylvania and pushed for the creation of a Latino-focused Smithsonian museum.
By Nick Gonzalez
Latinas make less than their male and female counterparts, have never served in a statewide elected position in California and remain underrepresented in corporate leadership positions. A new two-year effort launched by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez and the California Latino Caucus seeks to tackle the inequities that the state’s Latinas face.
UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI) faculty and staff have been at the forefront of the Unseen Latinas Initiative by providing expert testimony in its first year of public hearings to identify problems and solutions. Through cross-sector research, a team of LPPI female experts have been putting a data-driven lens on the educational, economic and career barriers that Latinas must overcome.
“By launching the Unseen Latinas Initiative, California’s leaders are making it clear that they understand that the state’s continued economic prowess requires that Latinas have a fair chance to succeed and thrive,” said Sonja Diaz, LPPI founding director. “Especially as we emerge from the pandemic, it’s time to make sure that no one gets left behind in the recovery and bright future that lies ahead.”
Latinas make up nearly 20% of Californians, and Latina participation in the U.S. workforce is expected to grow by 26% in the next 10 years. Yet new research from LPPI shows that Latinas exited the workforce amid the pandemic at higher rates than any other demographic amid the pandemic, making it clear that recovery efforts should provide specific assistance to help them recover financially and get back on their feet.
“California has an opportunity and responsibility to lead what it means to have a just and equal economy,” said Gonzalez, who earned a law degree at UCLA in 1999. “UCLA LPPI has been a valuable partner on the Unseen Latinas Initiative. LPPI experts have shared key testimony by shining a light on the inequalities Latinas continue to face, as well as the opportunities that exist to make sure Latinas are no longer unseen and can participate in the state’s prosperous future.”
In an October conversation about the Latina wage gap, Diaz urged action to address the child-care and family obligations that pushed Latinas out of the workforce during the pandemic. Without a clear plan to bring them back into the labor market, the repercussions could be devastating for Latino families and for the state’s economy, she said.
LPPI expert Mary Lopez, an economics professor at Occidental College, continued the conversation in a January hearing on the labor market, testifying that policy solutions such as affordable child care and job training are essential in reducing workforce inequities for Latinas.
Part of the invisibility of the needs and strengths of the state’s Latinas comes from the lack of representation in media and popular culture. At an April hearing, LPPI expert Ana-Christina Ramón provided testimony about the UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report, which she co-founded and co-authors. Latinos and women are among the groups that remain underrepresented in film relative to their population size.
“We know that Hollywood plays a meaningful role in shaping how people perceive others around them,” said Ramón, who is also the director of research and civic engagement at the UCLA Division of Social Sciences. “When Latinas do not have starring roles or they are not seen as doctors, lawyers or CEOs, that perpetuates the barriers that they face in achieving their full potential.”
For information about the legislators leading Unseen Latinas and for details on upcoming hearings, please visit the Assembly website for the state’s Select Committee on Latina Inequities.
Founding Director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative Sonja Diaz was featured in an NBC News article discussing the importance of accurate representation through redistricting. The Census Bureau’s release of data from the 2020 Census illustrated the growth of the Latino electorate over the past 10 years and “we want to ensure, through data and advocacy, that Latino political power does not decrease in the 2021 redistricting cycle,” Diaz said. The census data is a valuable tool for Latinos advocating for redistricting that reflects changing demographics. “It’s not a simple math problem. There’s politics involved and every state has a different process for how lines are drawn, whether it is the legislature or independent redistricting commissions,” she explained. “Ultimately, this country has had a storied history of vote dilution against communities of color, including Latinos and especially African Americans.”