Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to KPCC’s AirTalk about findings from the 2021 UCLA Quality of Life Index. The annual survey of Los Angeles County residents showed that 40% suffered a drop in income over the last year as the region was rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Those are the people who are pessimistic, those are the people who are threatened with losing their apartments because they can’t make their rent payment at the end of the month,” said Yaroslavsky, who called on policymakers to prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable. As one example, he noted that office space vacated as businesses downsize after the pandemic is “going to have huge implications for land use.” He asked, “What do you do with that empty office space? Can you repurpose it for housing, for example?” Several media outlets covered the Quality of Life Index, including the Los Angeles Times, KABC7 News and RealClear Politics.
The UCLA Luskin Summit concluded its 2021 season with a session delving into the sixth annual UCLA Quality of Life Index, a comprehensive look at residents’ satisfaction with life in Los Angeles County. Zev Yaroslavsky, who oversees the index as director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, led summit attendees through the most striking findings of the countywide survey, which was conducted in March. This year’s index put a spotlight on the COVID-19 pandemic’s harsh impact on household income, children’s education and confidence about the future. “What this survey has once again exposed is the two Los Angeleses that we have, the disparities by income, by race, by ethnicity, by age,” Yaroslavsky said. “And it’s not sustainable.” He called on policymakers to “focus on the people who don’t have the capacity to weather a storm like this” but acknowledged that the complex issues do not lend themselves to simple solutions or talking points. During the session, ABC7 News reporter Adrienne Alpert presented questions from the virtual audience on topics including rising fears of violent crime, a notable increase in civic engagement and the effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom. The April 19 webinar was the last of nine Luskin Summit sessions exploring pressing public policy issues under the banner “Called to Action.” The series began in January with a keynote address by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon; other sessions focused on issues such as housing insecurity, access to parks, sexual health, public transit and the numerous effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
By Les Dunseith
Residents of Los Angeles County have been deeply affected by the COVID-19 crisis, with significant numbers citing the pandemic’s adverse impact on their finances, health and children’s education, according to UCLA’s sixth annual Quality of Life Index.
“A year ago we speculated about how resilient our region would be in the year to follow,” said Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, who oversees the index. “We now know that Los Angeles County has demonstrated robust resilience, but a significant toll has been exacted on our residents by the tumultuous events. Many of our residents — especially younger ones — are anxious, angry and steadily losing hope about their future in Los Angeles.”
This year’s Quality of Life Index, or QLI, was based on interviews with 1,434 county residents over a 20-day period beginning on March 3, just as vaccinations were beginning to fuel optimism about a possible return to more normal life. Last year’s survey, conducted in the earliest stages of the pandemic, found high levels of anxiety about the possible impacts of COVID-19. Twelve months later, respondents said many of those fears had come to pass:
- More than half of those surveyed (54%) reported that they or a close family member or friend had tested positive for the coronavirus.
- Forty percent said their income went down because of the pandemic, with 22% saying it dropped “a lot” and 18% reporting “some” decline. Roughly 1 in 5 (18%) said they had lost their job at some point during the COVID-19 crisis.
- Three-quarters of parents (76%) with school-age children felt their kids had been “substantially hurt, either academically or socially,” by pandemic-related distance learning and quarantine experiences.
In addition, nearly a fifth (17%) of all respondents reported that their income declined “a lot” in the past year and that they also suffered at least two specific negative impacts, such as a job loss, a wage or salary reduction, a decline in work hours or difficulty paying their rent or mortgage. This group was disproportionately composed of women under age 50, single people, renters, those without college degrees and those with household incomes of less than $60,000.
“These are among the most vulnerable individuals living in our county,” Yaroslavsky said.
The QLI, a joint project of the UCLA Luskin Los Angeles Initiative and The California Endowment with major funding provided by Meyer and Renee Luskin, asks a cross-section of Los Angeles County residents each year to rate their quality of life in nine categories and 40 subcategories. Full results of this year’s survey were made available April 19 as part of UCLA’s Luskin Summit, which is taking place virtually.
Mirroring last year’s result, this year’s overall quality-of-life rating held steady at 58 (on a scale of 10 to 100), which is slightly more positive than negative. But researchers noted that marked changes emerged among specific racial and ethnic groups, especially with younger residents.
Younger Angelenos: Sinking optimism, tempered by race
Reflecting a trend seen in recent QLI surveys, the county’s younger population — those between the ages of 18 and 49 — rated their quality of life lower than older residents, and the pandemic seems to have exacerbated that disparity.
“The varied manifestations of COVID-19,” Yaroslavsky said, “fell most heavily on the shoulders of younger county residents.”
In particular, researchers observed a growing belief by younger Angelenos that the cost of living in the region is threatening their ability to make ends meet, get ahead or gain some sort of financial security.Yet even among this demographic, the survey revealed a distinct divergence in views between Latinos and whites, the two largest racial/ethnic groups in the county. While they have faced demonstrably harder challenges in the region, Latino residents overall were more positive about their quality of life than whites — and this was particularly pronounced among younger residents.
“Repeatedly, younger Latinos are more positive about their own conditions and express greater approval and positivity toward the variety of public officials and governmental entities that affect their lives,” said Paul Maslin, a public opinion and polling expert with Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3 Research) who has overseen the QLI survey process since 2016. “Among younger white residents in Los Angeles County, a greater sense of frustration and even bitterness is apparent.”
The survey uncovered a number of noteworthy differences in these two groups’ views of the pandemic, public officials and the opportunities available in the region:
- Younger white residents were evenly split over whether the handling of the pandemic had been fair or unfair to “people like them” (48% vs. 49%), whereas younger Latinos reported that it had been fair to them by a 2-to-1 margin (65% vs. 33%).
- About two-thirds (68%) of younger whites believe the Los Angeles area is a place where the rich get richer and the average person can’t get ahead, compared with only 55% of younger Latinos.
- Younger Latinos had more favorable views of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (57%) and Gov. Gavin Newsom (53%) than younger whites, 57% of whom had unfavorable views of Garcetti and 62% unfavorable views of Newsom.
- Younger white residents rated the response to the pandemic — across all levels of government — much more harshly than younger Latinos. Only about a third of whites approved of the response of federal, state and county governments and local school districts. Latinos’ ratings of approval were at least 20 points higher for every level of government and for local school districts.
- However, in terms of paying their rent, more younger Latinos (43%) reported falling behind than did young whites (31%).
The 2021 QLI: Resilience and change
While this year’s quality-of-life rating remained at 58 overall, reflecting a remarkable resilience among county residents, several significant shifts within the nine major categories that make up the survey tell a different story.
This was most noticeable in the education category, where the satisfaction rating of respondents with children in public schools dropped from 58 last year to 52 this year, one of the most dramatic one-year declines in any category in the QLI’s history.
Satisfaction ratings for public safety also fell over the past year, from 64 to 60, influenced significantly by a growing concern over violent crime. And respondents’ rating of the quality of their neighborhoods dropped from 71 to 68.
On the other hand, satisfaction with transportation and traffic rose from 53 to 56, which researchers attribute to a significant reduction in commuter traffic caused by pandemic-related workplace shutdowns.
With regard to the workplace, 57% of employed respondents said they currently work from home or split time between home and their place of work. As to the future, 77% said they would prefer a mix of working from home and their workplace when the pandemic ends, with just 16% wanting to “almost always work at home.”
The 2021 UCLA Luskin Quality of Life Index is based on interviews with a random sample of residents conducted in both English and Spanish, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6%. The QLI was prepared in partnership with the public opinion research firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3 Research). The full reports for 2021 and previous years are posted online by the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies.
Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the impending closure of a Ralph’s grocery store that serves a large Jewish community. The Pico-Robertson market, which has an extensive kosher section, is scheduled to close in May after the Los Angeles City Council voted to require large grocery stores to pay workers an extra $5 an hour for about four months as compensation for working on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pending shutdown has sparked fierce debates on social media over who is to blame: parent company Kroger or city politicians. “It’s unusual for a business to pull out and just selectively pull out,” said Yaroslavsky, a former city councilman and county supervisor in Los Angeles. “They’re walking away from a community that’s been loyal to them.” The article also cited Zev Hurwitz MPP ’18, who started an online petition to keep the Westside market open.
Director of the Los Angeles Initiative Zev Yaroslavsky spoke to Politico about growing efforts to recall elected leaders in California, starting with Gov. Gavin Newsom. Five previous attempts to recall the governor have failed. Now, voters unhappy with Newsom’s handling of the pandemic are again seeking to remove him from office. While there have been 179 recall attempts in California since 1911, only 10 have qualified for the ballot. Recently, virus fatigue has strengthened interest in recalls among disillusioned voters stuck at home, and many elected officials are becoming the targets of recall efforts. “I think COVID is one of those issues, and criminal justice is one of those issues, where everybody has an opinion,” Yaroslavsky said. He explained that law enforcement issues and pandemic restrictions have created distinct camps of Californians who “have been cooped up in their houses for a year” and are refusing to wait until 2022 to hold their representatives accountable.
In the final session of Luskin Summit 2021, longtime Los Angeles political figure Zev Yaroslavsky will unveil the sixth annual Quality of Life Index. The index reflects results from a survey of Los Angeles County residents on their satisfaction with topics such as cost of living, education, the environment, the economy, race relations and health care.
The Quality of Life Index is a joint project of the UCLA Luskin Los Angeles Initiative, directed by Yaroslavsky, and The California Endowment. Adrienne Alpert of ABC7 Eyewitness News in Los Angeles will moderate the event.
Thirty years after the video of the brutal police beating of Rodney King went viral, Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavsky spoke to USA Today about the killing of George Floyd and the jarring similarities between the two events. A group of white police officers who beat King in March 1991 were acquitted the following year by a mostly white jury in Los Angeles, prompting massive unrest and calls for social reforms. At the time, Yaroslavsky was a Los Angeles city councilman. Last year, Floyd’s death in Minneapolis prompted protests led by the Black Lives Matter social justice movement, and the police officer involved is now on trial for murder. “What happened that instant, on that sidewalk, at that moment, that was not a one-off. It’s a story that has replayed itself for decades, over and over again,” Yaroslavsky said of Floyd’s death. “When I look at what’s happening in Minneapolis, I see L.A. in 1992, so it’s like reliving history again.”
In a Los Angeles Times article about California’s chaotic distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke about the role played by unwieldy county governments. “The weakness of the county governance structure reveals itself when there’s a life-and-death issue like coronavirus,” said Yaroslavsky, a former Los Angeles County supervisor. Most California counties are governed by an elected board of supervisors, meaning there is no single executive in charge. In the early days of the vaccine rollout, L.A. County’s enormous size — 10 million people — created an additional hurdle. Yaroslavsky said strong, decisive leadership is key. “You have to have someone in charge who is the field general who says, ‘We’re marching this way. I’ve taken into account all the evidence,’ ” he said. “And everyone marches in lockstep.”
Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavsky spoke to the Daily Breeze about frustrations surrounding Los Angeles County’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout. While thousands of people were able to sign up to receive the vaccine, many were blocked, battling a severely limited supply, extraordinary demand for the available slots and a flurry of technical challenges. Yaroslavsky said much of the confusion stems from muddled messaging from federal, state and local authorities. “There’s been a total communication failure on the part of all levels of government,” he said. “To the average person … not savvy to the jurisdictional issues, they are just saying, ‘What are the rules?’ and ‘Hey, I’m 70 years old. Am I eligible or not eligible? The next day I hear something else from my local officials,’ ” Yaroslavsky said. “Everybody’s culpable on this, starting with the White House on down, and hopefully this is going to change in the days ahead with the new leadership.”
By Les Dunseith
As one of the state’s top political leaders, Rendon outlined his legislative priorities for 2021 — police reform, climate change and broadband internet access — as the first presenter in a virtual series of discussions set to continue in February, March and April.
Dean Gary Segura said Rendon was invited to open the Summit in part because his background and political views are of interest to UCLA students, faculty and alumni. “In his career as educator, child well-being advocate and policy innovator, Rendon represents the best values of the Luskin School and our mission.”
Addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, Rendon, a Democrat, said Californians are already seeing benefits from the election of Joe Biden as president.
“One thing we can be sure about is the importance of having a plan. Throughout 2020, when COVID first appeared on our radar, we did not have a national plan,” Rendon said. “Biden came in, and he released a plan in his first week.”
He noted the tension that existed on many issues between the Trump administration and California officials, which led state leaders to work independently of the federal government on issues such as immigration and climate change.
“With Biden in the White House … I think we’re going to have a little bit more help and more opportunities to work with this administration instead of against it,” Rendon said.
As a legislative leader, Rendon has stressed inclusion and diversity, and he noted that more women hold committee chairs today in the state assembly than at any time in the past. He also pointed to his appointment of the first Muslim, Imam Mohammad Yasir Khan, to serve as assembly chaplain.
His leadership style emphasizes sharing of responsibility, Rendon told the online audience of more than 100 scholars, social services advocates, philanthropic and public leaders, and other interested parties.
“I believe that the assembly works best when the individual members of the assembly, particularly the chairs, are able to utilize their skills, to utilize their life experiences,” he said. For example, Rendon said he has sought to embolden the chairs of legislative committees related to health and education whose expertise exceeds his own. “That’s been my philosophy, that I can be the best leader if I’m enabling others to do their jobs.”
In terms of legislative priorities, Rendon acknowledged that California lawmakers “fell short” on police reform in 2020, including failing to pass a bill that would have changed the disciplinary processes for police officers.
“We need to change those processes so that public safety is not just about officer protection,” he said. “Of course, we want to make sure that we’re not endangering the people we trust with patrolling our streets and neighborhoods, but we also have to make sure that they are careful.”
Rendon said California is already a national and international leader in dealing with climate change, but more work can be done.
“We need to ask if our climate change actions benefit disadvantaged communities,” he said, noting that his assembly district includes some of the most densely populated areas in the nation. “Southeast L.A. communities have around 17,000 people per square mile, but we have severe park shortages.”
Parts of his district were once farmland, but when they were developed for housing, the emphasis was placed on building high-density apartment dwellings without retaining open spaces. “Parks and vegetation are really important ways to reduce the heat island effect that drives warming in urban communities,” Rendon said.
His third legislative priority for 2021 also focuses on disadvantaged communities. In the past, discussions about a lack of broadband internet access centered around rural communities in the extreme north and south of the state.
“When COVID happened and when folks started having to go online for schooling, we discovered that there was a lack of broadband access all over the place,” Rendon said. “And those problems really started to manifest themselves, particularly in disadvantaged communities.”
He views the internet today as a critical public utility. “It’s not just a rich and poor issue; not just an urban and rural issue,” Rendon said. “It’s an issue that affects every single part of the state.”
In answer to a question posed by Segura about housing affordability, Rendon talked about visiting a neighborhood where he had once lived and noticing a flurry of housing construction. He reached out to a local official to praise the effort, only to be told to take a closer look at the upper floors of the newly occupied buildings.
“Those are all dark, right? Nobody lives there.”
In Rendon’s view, this example illustrates an ongoing problem in a state in which high-end housing continues to be built without enough pressure being brought on developers to balance their projects with affordable units.
When he first got to Sacramento, Rendon said, he noticed a disconnect in people’s minds between housing and homelessness. Over time, this misconception has slowly changed, in part because of “incredible data that show the number of people who would become homeless if they missed one month of pay, if they missed two months of pay.”
To further illustrate his point, Rendon noted that as assembly speaker he serves on the UC Board of Regents and the Cal State Board of Trustees. The statistics on housing scarcity among university students are staggering, he said, noting that many students can be found sleeping in their cars or couch surfing with friends from one night to the next.
“We know that housing and homelessness are linked,” said Rendon, whose 20 years of work in the nonprofit sphere often leads him to look for solutions in service delivery mechanisms. “I think if we’re going to solve the housing crisis, we need to address homelessness. And if we’re going to address homelessness, we really need to think about comprehensive services for homeless folks and for near-homeless folks.”
Additional information about the Luskin Summit, including previews of other sessions and a registration link, can be found online. Sponsors include the Los Angeles Rams, Gensler, the Weingart Foundation and the California Wellness Foundation. The media partner is ABC7 in Los Angeles.
In late April, the final event of Luskin Summit 2021 will be unveiling of the 6th annual Quality of Life Index, a project at UCLA Luskin that is supported by The California Endowment and Meyer and Renee Luskin under the direction of Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative. The survey asks county residents to rate their quality of life in a range of categories and to answer questions about important issues. Last year’s survey happened to coincide with the early stages of the pandemic.
Watch a recording of the keynote session: