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Report Finds Spike in Food Insecurity, Patterns of Inequality

A new report from UCLA Luskin’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK) documents a surge in food insecurity across the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic. By mid-July, more than 64 million people reported difficulty getting enough to eat — a level of food insecurity that is higher than that experienced during the Great Recession, the study found. Federal government programs did provide food, employment and housing assistance to help Americans weather the pandemic, but “that did not prevent rising crisis levels of hunger and food insecurity,” said CNK Director Paul Ong, co-author of the report. Households experiencing food insecurity increased from 10.5% in October 2019 to 18% in late April and to 26% by early July, according to the study, which analyzed data from the U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey. Researchers also identified patterns of inequality along ethnic and racial lines: Between April 23 and July 21, 2020, food insecurity was reported by 36% of Black and 31% of Latino households, compared to 16% of non-Hispanic white households. Shelter-in-place mandates contributed to the high level of food insecurity, with some respondents saying that health issues, transportation problems or fear kept them from going to the grocery store. For most, however, the problem was financial, with nearly 80% of those suffering food insecurity reporting that they could not afford to buy more food. “Using a strictly rational approach, increasing access to healthy food would reduce health care costs and the loss of lives, which would benefit all society,” said co-author Tom Larson, professor emeritus at Cal State Los Angeles. “Morally, providing aid is just the right thing to do.”  


 

‘We Set Our Destiny,’ Becerra Says of Fellow Californians

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra weighed in on the Golden State’s place in a deeply divided nation during a conversation with UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura just hours after polls closed in the 2020 election. As they awaited final results in the presidential race, Becerra told viewers that California’s unique role as an engine of innovation and economic growth transcends any election or individual politician. “Regardless of what happens around us, we set our destiny,” he said. Hosted by the Los Angeles World Affairs Council and Town Hall in partnership with the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, the Nov. 4 dialogue touched on Becerra’s role battling the Trump administration on health care, immigration, climate change and scores of other issues. To date, the state has sued the federal government 104 times, Becerra said. “We go to court against Donald Trump not because it’s easy or it’s fun,” he said. “We go to court because we must protect our people, our values and our resources.” Of urgent concern is safeguarding the environment, he said, noting, “We have lost four years in addressing the climate crisis, and Mother Nature is not going to give us those years back.” As the state’s top law enforcement officer, Becerra called for more police training, accountability and transparency but noted, “Let’s not make it look like it’s a simple thing like ‘defunding police.’ ” He added, “I respect the work that’s done every day by men and women in uniform. I will go after those who have engaged in improper conduct in that uniform.” 


 

Election Primer: When Will We Know Who Won?

Study Examines Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Small Businesses in L.A.’s Ethnic Neighborhoods

The UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK), in collaboration with Ong & Associates, recently released a new report on COVID-19 pandemic impacts on minority-owned businesses in Los Angeles. Previous CNK studies have documented the disproportionate adverse impacts of the pandemic on marginalized neighborhoods in labor and housing markets. The new report focuses on small businesses and examines whether the COVID-19 crisis disproportionately impacted local businesses in ethnic neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Answers to this question provide academic insights on racial systemic inequality and inform policy interventions, according to Paul Ong, co-author of the report and CNK director.  “If the disparities are significant, there are profound policy implications. Race-conscious government efforts to address systemic racism are needed to ensure an equitable economic recovery,” the researchers said. The team used location data to analyze foot traffic patterns to restaurants and retail locations in ethnic and comparison neighborhoods from February through September 2020. The results indicate an earlier and steeper decline in commercial activity in Chinatown and, while retail was resilient in ethnic neighborhoods, restaurants suffered greater declines on average than in comparison neighborhoods. Ong and colleagues found that overall, the ethnic neighborhoods collectively performed worse than the county as a whole prior to lockdown and performed no better than the county under shelter-in-place orders. The project was partially supported with grants from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs (funded by Southern California Grantmakers) and from the UCLA Asian American Studies Center (funded by the Stanley Kow Lau and Dora Wong Lau Endowment).


 

Voting Rights Project Helps Protect 127,000 Texas Ballots

Texas voters and the UCLA Voting Rights Project scored a legal victory with a federal judge’s dismissal of a suit to invalidate more than 127,000 ballots in the state’s most populous county. Chad Dunn, the project’s director of litigation, has been leading the legal effort to protect voting rights in Texas and was part of the legal team defending the drive-through voting option in largely Democratic Harris County. This option permitted voters to cast their ballots from their cars, similar to drive-through banking. The drive-through voting plans had been in place since July and had been approved by the Texas secretary of state. The plaintiffs, members of the state’s Republican Party, filed two motions to the Texas Supreme Court seeking to throw out the drive-through votes; both were denied. The plaintiffs then turned to the federal courts, where a judge ruled Monday that they did not have standing to sue. Hours after the decision was handed down, the Republican plaintiffs filed an appeal to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which denied the motion early Tuesday — Election Day. “It was obvious that this method of voting was approved by the state of Texas and this late attempt to strip voters of their rights was rightfully denied,” Dunn said. “Every vote from a qualified voter should be counted.” — Sonni Waknin


 

Digital Divide Among U.S. Schoolchildren Is Deepening, Report Finds

A new report by the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin measures the digital divide in American schools, which threatens to undermine the educational achievement of low-income and minority students for years to come. Disparities in access to computers and adequate internet service predate COVID-19 but have deepened since the pandemic’s outbreak, the study found. The analysis used data from the U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey covering the latter part of the 2019-2020 school year, when schools were forced to halt in-person learning. All groups experienced some challenges in providing adequate computer access and internet service for children’s educational purposes, but the difficulties were greatest in Hispanic, Black, low-income and younger households, according to the study. It also found a link between the lack of access to technology and the parents’ level of educational attainment. Researchers are currently assessing data from the start of the 2020-2021 school year to identify lingering disparities. The study, conducted in collaboration with the public interest research group Ong & Associates, aims to guide educators and policymakers in formulating effective programs to ensure a fair and equitable school system. “It is essential for elected officials and business leaders to act now to address the potential long-term social and economic effects of this health crisis,” the report’s authors said. “This is true especially given the added challenge the pandemic places on minority, low-income, less educated and young families trying to educate their children to succeed in the new information age.”


 

Ideas and Expertise Exchanged at Post-Debate Forum

The UCLA Luskin Public Policy community came together after the final presidential debate of 2020 to hear insights from an array of experts on the U.S. political landscape: Dean Gary Segura, an authority on polls and other measures of political opinion; Chair Martin Gilens, whose research focuses on political inequality; Professor Mark Peterson, who specializes in health-care policy; Sonja Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative; and Chad Dunn, director of litigation for the UCLA Voting Rights Project. During the 90-minute Zoom gathering, the speakers assessed the exchange between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, which was deemed a step up from previous matchups, then fielded questions from students and alumni. The conversation touched on the accuracy of polling, the threat of voter intimidation, the electoral pathway to victory for each candidate, and even the risk that the country might veer toward fascism. Unless the vote count is tied up amid irregularities in a single, decisive state — as it was in Bush v. Gore in the 2000 race —Segura said the chance that the election’s outcome will be seriously challenged is small. “Try not to let the demons in your head and the demons from 2016 keep you awake at night,” he advised. The conversation was part of a series of forums designed to bring policy students, alumni, faculty and staff together to share concerns, perspectives and experiences within an informed and supportive community. At the next Policy Forum, on Nov. 5, faculty experts will parse the results of the election.


 

Ritterbusch Part of International Team of Scholars Studying Child Rights and Well-Being

Assistant Professor of Social Welfare Amy Ritterbusch is part of an international team of researchers working on child rights and well-being under a grant awarded to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). The multi-country study also includes scholars and activists from Sri Lanka, New Zealand, South Africa and Uganda. “This study will advance current scholarship on two topics related to honor – honor as a factor in sustaining violence against children, and honor as a factor contributing to child well-being through children’s social relationships with family, peers and community,” LSHTM researchers said. Drawing from Ritterbusch’s methodological area of expertise, the research will use child-led participatory approaches that will place children’s voices and experiences at the center of the initiative and that will lead adult researchers toward community-driven solutions to violence in their daily lives. Ritterbusch serves as principal investigator of the Uganda country component of the project. “It continues my work on mobilizing street-level solutions to violence against children in the urban margins of Uganda, including a continuation of child-led advocacy against the multiple forms of police brutality that street-connected children and adolescents experience,” she said. Ritterbusch, a human and urban geographer, has led social-justice-oriented participatory action research initiatives with street-connected communities in Colombia and Uganda. “As part of the team of principal investigators, I will collectively lead the Uganda site of this multi-country study with the street-connected youth researchers I have been working with since 2015 in Kampala,” Ritterbusch said.