Grassroots Environmental and Financial Assistance for L.A. Residents UCLA Luskin researchers find emPOWER campaign reaches areas impacted by poverty and pollution

By Stan Paul

Low-income households in California face higher energy, transportation and water affordability burdens than other populations as a percentage of household income spent on utilities. Yet the existence of a number of environmental benefit programs provided by state and local agencies does not ensure that these households benefit from them.

A new pilot program designed to enable low-income households across Los Angeles County to realize more fully those benefits is off to a good start, according to a new report by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation or LCI. The purpose of the LCI report is to provide an evaluation of the first year of the campaign, including its equity implications, the effectiveness of its outreach and areas for growth.

“The pilot stage’s reach to the most environmentally disadvantaged communities in the region was undeniably a success,” said Gregory Pierce, associate director of the center and lead author of the program evaluation, “emPOWER: A Scalable Model for Improving Community Access to Environmental Benefit Programs in California.” The report was co-authored by Rachel Connolly, a graduate student researcher at the Luskin Center for Innovation. Connolly is a doctoral student in the Environmental Health Sciences department within the Fielding School of Public Health.

The emPOWER outreach campaign was launched in 2019, with Liberty Hill Foundation, a Los Angeles-based social justice philanthropic organization, serving as regional hub administrator. Through existing community relationships, Liberty Hill funded eight community-based organizations across the county to connect low-income residents with a suite of environment-related financial assistance programs, including those offering clean and affordable energy and clean transportation. These incentive programs provide benefits including, but not limited to, utility bill savings, zero-emission vehicle incentives and energy efficiency home upgrades.

The platform was launched to realize opportunities via community relationships and to address longstanding public health issues in environmental justice communities. mark! Lopez, the executive director of one of the organizations, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, explains the importance of this neighborhood engagement in Southeast Los Angeles County.

“When our folks have limited income, that reduction [in cost] is everything,” Lopez said. “That reduction is the ability to breathe; it can mean everything for the trajectory of our families.”

“That’s the really novel aspect of the program,” said Pierce, who is also an adjunct assistant professor in urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. The community organizations are already connected with a lot of people who can benefit from these programs. “People trust them, and they can convey the opportunities in a much more effective way.”

Pierce pointed out that emPOWER benefit programs are brought together in one place enabling households to sign up at once, “instead of a number of separate programs that are hard for people to understand or sign up for. It’s great that there are so many programs but at this point they can be operated and communicated in a more coherent way.”

The emPOWER program will continue to operate in Los Angeles County in 2020, with goals to expand the campaign model beyond Los Angeles, first to the Inland Empire and ultimately statewide. Broadening and deepening this campaign can help ensure a just transition in the process of climate change adaptation over the next several decades, according to the authors.

Report Findings:

  • The emPOWER campaign serves as a replicable model for the state. It prioritizes funding to authentic grassroots organizations working to build power in communities on the front lines of industrial pollution.
  • Despite some administrative challenges, the campaign engaged more than 11,000 distinct households and received over 2,700 eligibility applications.
  • Especially compared to existing individual programs, the campaign was highly successful in reaching communities disproportionately affected by systemic racism, poverty, pollution and now the pandemic. Over 90% of emPOWER participants live in a state-identified disadvantaged community or low-income community census tract.
  • Monetary benefits for participants are tremendous. On average, each emPOWER participant is eligible for more than nine incentive programs. Eligible participants can receive hundreds of dollars in benefits for their electric, gas and water utility bills. For instance, the average participant could receive $320 annually in electricity bill assistance through Southern California Edison’s CARE program. In addition, many participants can receive up to $9,500 in benefits to trade in an old gas-guzzling vehicle for an electric car through the Replace Your Ride program.
  • Notable process successes of the campaign included community organizations’ ability to build upon existing relationships with their communities, a focus on program benefits that participants were consistently motivated to apply for, and active technical assistance and program adaptation.  Frequently reported challenges that need to be addressed in future phases of the program include community hesitation and misconceptions regarding emPOWER and the associated incentive programs.

Report Shows Major Effects of COVID-19 on Asian American Labor Force Increasing difference in unemployment, jobless rates between Asians and whites among the findings

By Melany De La Cruz-Viesca

A UCLA report released today reveals the disparate economic impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on Asian Americans and points to a need to expand financial relief for all workers in order to stave off the worst effects of the crisis and ensure a strong recovery.

While anecdotal evidence suggests that Asian American businesses, particularly those in big-city ethnic enclaves, experienced the impact of COVID-19 earlier and more deeply than others as a result of xenophobia and racial discrimination, there has been little empirical data to show the overall effect on Asian Americans in the labor market.

The new analysis, by researchers from the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, and Ong & Associates, used employment and labor data for California and New York to better understand the nature, pattern and magnitude of the COVID-19 economic disruption to Asian Americans between March and May 2020.

The report found an increased difference in unemployment and joblessness between Asian Americans and whites during this period, compared with the period before the pandemic, when the rates were nearly identical. By May 2020, the researchers found, the unemployment rate for Asians was 15% and the jobless rate was 21%, compared with 12% and 16% for whites.

In addition, while Asian Americans made up 16% of the California labor force in February 2020, they filed 19% of initial unemployment claims over the two-and-a-half months of the shutdown. In New York state, they accounted for 9% of the labor force but filed 14% of claims by mid-April.

The pandemic has had a profound effect on disadvantaged Asian Americans, the researchers note. Among those in the labor force with a high school education or less, 83% filed unemployment claims in California, compared with 37% for the rest of the California labor force with the same level of education.

According to the report, many of these economic effects of COVID-19 are due to the fact that Asian Americans are heavily concentrated in a small number of states and frequently work in industries that have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic and shelter-in-place mandates.

Nearly 1 in 4 employed Asian Americans work in the categories of hospitality and leisure, retail, and other services, the last of which includes businesses like repair shops and personal services such as hair-cutting and laundries. The unemployment rate for Asian Americans in the hospitality and leisure sector in April was 39%, compared with 36% for non-Hispanic whites. In the other services sector, the rate was 40% for Asians and 19% for whites, according to the report.

In terms of business closures during the pandemic, the authors estimate that 233,000 Asian American small businesses closed from February to April, representing a decline of 28% over the two-month period. The 1.79 million non-Hispanic white small businesses that closed over the same period represented a decline of 17%.

“An important question to consider for the future is whether these disparities will continue as the economy reopens and be exacerbated by the apparent increase in anti-Asian sentiment in the U.S.,” said Paul Ong, co-author of the report and director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

A number of policy recommendations outlined in the report would provide much-needed economic relief to marginalized and low-income Asian Americans, in particular those in the service sector. They include:

  • Enact federal policy to extend unemployment benefits and small business assistance, such as the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance program from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
  • Enact additional state policies that provide benefits to marginalized populations least likely to receive unemployment benefits through the CARES Act.
  • Enact additional policies to assist small businesses, including the so-called resiliency funds established by some local governments.
  • Increase efforts to ensure marginalized populations take advantage of governmental, private and philanthropic resources to help people weather the financial hardships of COVID-19.
  • Enact federal and state polices and fund programs to equip economically displaced people with job skills that are marketable during and after the COVID-19 crisis.

“We need to invest in all workers to ensure a robust recovery,” the researchers write.

The Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK) conducts basic and applied research on the socioeconomic formation and internal dynamics of neighborhoods, and how these collective spatial units are positioned and embedded within regions. The center is housed in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Established in 1969, the UCLA Asian American Studies Center has been at the forefront of producing and disseminating knowledge of the lives of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders through research, archival and film documentation, publications and civic engagement.

Ong & Associates is an economic and policy analysis consulting firm founded by Paul Ong that specializes in public interest issues; the firm provided services pro bono for the study.

Social Workers Identify Dire Needs as Schools Prepare to Resume Classes Research brief recommends a nationwide rapid-response initiative to coordinate guidance for education in the COVID-19 era

By Mary Braswell

As school districts nationwide grapple with how and when to safely reopen in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a survey of 1,275 social workers across the United States shows the immensity of the challenge ahead.

The results of the survey, conducted by UCLA and research partners from Loyola University Chicago, Cal State Fullerton and Hebrew University, were published today in a research brief that calls on elected officials and other leaders to act quickly and invest heavily to bolster the nation’s schools.

In addition to concerns about online learning platforms and physical distancing protocols, the school social workers reported that many students and their families are struggling with their most basic needs during the COVID-19 era.

“They’re reporting overwhelming numbers of students who don’t have food, who don’t have stable housing or health services, whose families are suffering,” said the study’s co-author, Ron Avi Astor, a professor of social welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs who also has a faculty appointment at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

“The national dialogue on reopening schools is not focused on this right now, but the social workers are telling us loud and clear that meeting basic human needs for a large number of students is the big issue schools face in the fall.”

“Every school district is reinventing the wheel over and over and over again, and we think it would be wise to have a clear national strategy,” says Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor.

The social workers who responded to the survey work with students from preschool to 12th grade, mostly in low-income and minority communities. Serving on the front lines in the most underserved schools, the social workers are uniquely equipped to identify the students’ social, mental health and physical needs — and to help address them once states and schools enter into a recovery phase, he said.

As one social worker who participated in the study noted, “Creating equitable education isn’t about checking off to-do lists. It’s about getting into the work of getting to know the needs of the community and meeting them where they are.”

The brief calls for the creation of a national rapid-response team including teachers, administrators, medical professionals, counselors, psychologists and social workers to provide guidance for schools as they weigh in-person, online or hybrid learning models.

“Every school district is reinventing the wheel over and over and over again, and we think it would be wise to have a clear national strategy,” Astor said.

The report also recommends that a national technical assistance center be created to help any school adjust its procedures, if needed.

“The reality around this virus is changing day to day,” Astor said. “We can’t just have one plan at the beginning of the year and wait until the end of the next year to find out it didn’t work.”

The policy recommendations call for the hiring of a massive number of social workers, nurses, psychologists and other professionals in the hardest-hit schools, many of which serve low-income and minority students.

That’s going to cost money. But the teacher can’t do it alone,” said Astor, who added that state and federal investment is needed to expand support staff in schools that have historically been underfunded.

“If our country has trillions of dollars to bail out large wealthy corporations, we also have enough to create a Marshall Plan-like program to rebuild and provide basic supports to the nation’s students, schools and communities,” he said.

The report’s authors noted that their findings come amid calls for systemic change spurred by the Black Lives Matter movement. “The question of how to reopen and reinvest in schools that serve under-resourced communities and students of color has gained prominence and urgency,” they wrote.

In addition to providing resources and support for mental health, food, housing, transportation and medical services, a team of professionals is needed to locate and reengage the large number of students — up to 30%, according to some reports — who rarely showed up once classrooms went virtual this spring, the report found.

The recommendations are aimed at avoiding a “lost generation” of students, Astor said.

“That would be the epitome of social injustice,” he said. “We need a campaign to bring students who dropped out or disengaged due to systemic inaction back into the fold. We need to show that our schools are not just about sitting in the classroom and learning math or other academic subjects — that we care about their well-being as a whole.

“That’s a very important message for our country to send this generation of students and their families.”

Read the policy brief and technical report authored by Michael S. Kelly of Loyola University Chicago, Ron Avi Astor of UCLA, Rami Benbenishty of Hebrew University, Gordon Capp of Cal State Fullerton and Kate R. Watson of UCLA.

 

Study Aims to Bolster California’s Safe-Water Efforts at Child Care Facilities Luskin Center for Innovation analysis offers wide-ranging guidance on state mandate to test drinking water for lead

By Michelle Einstein

Efforts to ensure safe drinking water for children need further support to reach their intended audience, according to an analysis of California’s mandate requiring child care facilities to test their water for lead, known as AB 2370.

The finding from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation is part of a new report and policy brief that examine strategies for developing and implementing the state’s testing and remediation program for those sites. Among its recommendations, the report stresses the need for a dedicated funding stream to ensure the program’s success.

“We’ve learned from a similar program in California’s schools that if robust monitoring and funding doesn’t exist, much of the needed testing and remediation won’t be implemented,” said Gregory Pierce, associate director of the center and lead author of the study.

In order to be successful, Pierce predicts, the program will require five to 10 times more funding than the $5 million currently budgeted by the state.

To determine how to best implement the program, the researchers synthesized feedback from a variety of stakeholders, including child care providers, environmental justice advocates and water utilities. They found several current shortcomings, including the fact that many child care providers have not received directives to test their water and that the program’s messaging is only available in English and Spanish.

The study recommends that stakeholders at all levels have a voice in helping to design the program to correct problems. A co-design process that includes parents, day care centers, utilities and state agencies will result in higher compliance rates and confirm that all centers have their facilities tested in a timely manner, the researchers say.

It is also important that the program not increase mistrust of tap water in settings where such concern is unmerited, according to the report. For instance, after hearing about the lead testing program, some day care centers and parents began using bottled beverages, even though their drinking water was clean. Bottled water can be expensive and has a negative environmental impact.

Lead exposure poses an acute threat to young children and their families. Even low-level exposure has been connected to loss in IQ, hearing impairments and learning disabilities. Recognizing this threat, California passed Assembly Bill 2370 in 2018, which mandates the testing of drinking water for lead at licensed child care facilities built before 2010. These sites must complete the tests before 2023 and, if elevated levels are found, remedy the problem or find alternative sources of water.

AB 2370 represents a meaningful step toward further protecting children’s health, the researchers say, but implementing the law remains a huge feat. Thousands of day care centers must test and clean up their plumbing systems, and many of these facilities are experiencing funding and staffing shortages, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

Overall, the researchers view the program as an important step toward ensuring the human right to clean water for all Californians. A more streamlined and supported implementation process, they say, would help officials better deliver on-the-ground results statewide.

The study was funded by First 5 LA, an independent public agency working to strengthen systems, parents and communities so that by 2028, all children in Los Angeles County will enter kindergarten ready to succeed in school and life.

Global Study Finds Critical Gaps in Workplace Protections Laws prohibiting discrimination are key to ensuring equal economic opportunity, UCLA researchers say

As throngs of people around the world stand in solidarity with American protesters calling for an end to racial injustice, a sweeping study of 193 countries by the UCLA WORLD Policy Analysis Center reveals critical gaps in legal protections against discrimination on the job.

Nearly one in four countries continue to have no legal protection from discrimination at work based on race and ethnicity, according to the study, just published in the journal Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.

This is not a question of a nation’s resources, researchers found. In fact, high-income countries do slightly worse: 28% of high-income countries fail to have any protections, compared to 19% of low-income countries and 23% of middle-income countries.

Even in countries that prohibit discrimination, substantial gaps in legal protections exist. Globally, 51% of countries offer no protection from retaliation against workers who report discriminatory treatment based on race or ethnicity, preventing individuals from accessing justice, the study revealed.

Moreover, laws against discrimination often provided only partial protection or failed to specify areas covered. The study analyzed laws and regulations governing hiring, pay, promotions and demotions, terminations and harassment in all 193 members of the United Nations.

“Discrimination at work persists across countries, but there is powerful evidence that anti-discrimination laws can make a difference,” said Jody Heymann, founder of the WORLD Policy Analysis Center and a distinguished professor of public policy, health policy and management, and medicine at UCLA. “All the world’s countries have agreed to address inequality, over and over again, at the U.N. This cannot be achieved without providing legal guarantees to non-discrimination at work for all people.”

In addition to race and ethnicity, WORLD researchers assessed gaps in national legislation protecting against discrimination based on sex, parenting status, gender identity, sexual orientation, migrant status and foreign national origin, among other groupings. Among the findings:

• 53% of the countries do not guarantee equal pay for work of equal value based on sex
• 62% do not prohibit discrimination based on parenting status
• 68% do not guarantee protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation
• 90% do not guarantee protection from discrimination at work based on gender identity
• 62% do not guarantee protection from discrimination based on migrant status
• 62% do not guarantee protection from discrimination based on foreign national origin

“Equal access to decent work is one of the most promising ways to end cycles of poverty, yet discrimination on the job persists,” said study co-author Amy Raub, principal research analyst at WORLD. “Legal protection from workplace discrimination is a critical first step to ensuring equal opportunities for economic success.”

In addition to the newly published research, the WORLD Policy Analysis Center has posted detailed data, maps, charts and policy briefs on workplace discrimination in four categories: race and ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity, and migrant status.

Alumni Offer Advice on an Uncertain Job Market Class of 2020 hears words of encouragement from two who graduated during the Great Recession

By Mary Braswell

Joey Shanley and Andy Sywak know what it’s like to look for a job in an economy shaken by uncertainty. The two UCLA Luskin alumni graduated in 2009 as the nation struggled to emerge from the Great Recession.

Each embarked on career paths that took surprising-but-welcome turns, and each emerged with insights about job strategies that work, including adjusting your mindset to weather unpredictable times.

At an online panel hosted by UCLA Luskin Career Services, Shanley and Sywak shared their wisdom with graduates entering the workforce during a downturn that has eclipsed the recession of a decade ago. Their words of advice to the Class of 2020 were both practical and encouraging.

“You have a master’s degree from one of the top top-tier universities in the world. I don’t have a crystal ball. I can’t tell you when you will find a job, but I will tell you that you will find a job,” said Shanley, who earned his master’s in social welfare and now manages transgender care programs at Kaiser Permanente Southern California.

Before and after he earned his master’s in public policy, Sywak worked in journalism, government, nonprofits and the private sector. He now uses policy and planning skills as a compliance manager for the West Hollywood startup AvantStay, which specializes in high-end short-term rental properties.

In each position he has held, Sywak pursued his longstanding interest in local government, and he encouraged students to “find that common thread” when presenting resumes with a wide range of experiences.

‘The thing that we always look for is people who can create solutions.’ — Andy Sywak MPP ’09

Shanley pursued politics and film before dedicating his life to social work, and even then a few unexpected turns awaited him.

“If you pulled me aside five years ago and said, you know, Joey, you’re going to be neck-deep in transgender health, I would have said that sounds great but that’s not my career path,” said Shanley, who manages Kaiser’s gender-affirming surgery program and is helping to launch a pediatric transgender care clinic.

“This is where my career has gone, and it’s been beyond even my wildest hopes.”

The May 29 panel launched a series of Career Services activities aimed at supporting students and alumni throughout the summer. At the next event, a Zoom conversation on July 7, Marcia Choo, vice president of community development at Wells Fargo Bank, will discuss how to align career decisions with equity and social justice.

Shanley and Sywak invited freshly minted policy, planning and social welfare graduates to remain in touch, to seek career advice or simply to strengthen the UCLA Luskin alumni connection.

The power of networking can be tapped well before graduation, Shanley noted. He recalled poring over the entire list of MSW field placements, then scouring websites of employers that piqued his interest. Whether or not they had active job listings, he reached out to set up introductory meetings and always followed up with both an email and a written note.

“I’m still old school,” he said, and hiring managers may be, too. “When all the candidates look equal but there’s a nice, handwritten thank-you card from you, that’s going to actually help elevate your position in the rankings.”

Both in interviews and on the job, the ability to communicate clearly and think creatively are key, Sywak added.

“When you work at a startup, people are given pretty big responsibilities pretty easily. … The thing that we always look for is people who can create solutions,” he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made certain skill sets essential on the job, the alumni added. Employees who have transitioned to a virtual environment, with clients or with colleagues, should master new technologies, design skills and ways of communicating to remain relevant, they said.

Both Shanley and Sywak counseled the graduates to view their hard-won master’s degrees as the beginning, not the end, of their education.

“There’s a lot that we can learn in those first few years out of grad school,” Shanley said. “Make sure that you’re listening, make sure you continue to have curiosity. …

“Especially now, life is hard for everybody. Make sure that you can funnel that into a place that’s effective in the workplace. Help find the solutions.”

 

Students Provide a Direct Line to Help Struggling County Workers UCLA volunteers, L.A. County team up on Partnership for Wellbeing call-in service

By Mary Braswell

A team of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare students is answering the call to provide support, resources and a compassionate ear to Los Angeles County employees feeling the strain of life during the coronavirus pandemic.

Seven days a week, the volunteers staff a call-in line for those needing help navigating the array of mental health services offered by the county. They offer referrals for professional counseling, help understanding health insurance benefits and, occasionally, advice on relieving COVID-19-related stress through breathing, meditation and mindfulness exercises.

Launched by the county’s Department of Mental Health in partnership with UCLA, the Public Partnership for Wellbeing line is remarkable for the speed with which it was created and the commitment of the 20 or so students and recent graduates who stepped up to staff it, its organizers say.

Jeff Capps, who earned his master’s degree in social welfare from the Luskin School this month, remembers when the call for volunteers went out in April.

“I replied immediately,” said Capps, who knows several front-line workers battling COVID-19. “I just felt an overwhelming obligation to do what I could to help. This seemed like a very easy way for a student to do something, to maybe make a difference in someone’s life, even if it’s small.”

Volunteer Hanako Justice, who is pursuing a dual master’s in social welfare and public health, spent the first part of the academic year working with the county’s psychiatric mobile response team, which assesses mental health needs and risks in the community. Just as the pandemic was putting limits on that on-site internship, the opportunity to staff the well-being line — which, for health and safety reasons, volunteers do from their own homes — surfaced.

“It really came full circle for me,” Justice said. “I’m really grateful that I get to use my experience and continue to provide some sort of resources and service.”

Initially launched to support the county’s first responders, the call line’s mission has expanded. Any county employee dealing with pandemic-related anxiety, grief or other stresses may now use the free, confidential service as a first line of help.

“It’s not a crisis intervention line, it’s not therapy,” noted Social Welfare Professor Todd Franke, who led the effort to launch the call-in line at the request of the county. “It’s to provide people with support and give them resources if this is touching their lives in some way.”

Franke recalled the first conversation about the project, when he was told, “We have this opportunity, we have this need. Is there any chance someone can get this up and running in the blink of an eye?”

Franke quickly brought on Ashleigh Herrera, who earned her doctorate in social welfare at UCLA Luskin in 2019, to train volunteers and manage the project. Thanks to the longstanding collaborative relationship between the county and UCLA, bureaucratic hurdles were quickly cleared. Within two weeks, the call line was operational.

In the first phase, as students were still being recruited and trained, the line was staffed by faculty, clinicians and professionals from across UCLA, including the David Geffen School of Medicine, the Prevention Center for Excellence, the department of psychology and UCLA Luskin, Herrera said. Now, the students and recent graduates are fully trained to staff the line, which is open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“We were excited to see such an overwhelming response from people interested in just supporting L.A. County workers during this time,” Herrera said. “Even as we’re having to practice social distancing, seeing everyone come together to be of service is tremendous.”

Many of the students selected to staff the line aspire to work in the mental health field, she said, and all will benefit from the opportunity to deliver care to those suffering through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is going to continue to be something that affects us as a society,” Herrera said. “No matter what setting they go into next, these students will have experience providing direct relief, focusing through this lens.”

Herrera, who is also a licensed clinical social worker, supervises the volunteers, who use a call-in system developed by Department of Mental Health fellow John Drebinger. Franke, Herrera and Drebinger meet weekly to fine-tune the call line, factoring in feedback from student volunteers and priorities set by the county.

After the academic year wrapped up, students were able to devote more hours to staffing the line, and some graduates moved on. The summer staff of nine will be paid for their time, then return to volunteer status once the fall term begins.

Plans to further publicize the well-being line are expected to increase the volume of calls, which averaged 200 to 300 per month in the early days, team members say. They are working on expanding the service to provide text and chat support in the future.

Chloe Horowitz, a call-line volunteer who just completed her master’s in social welfare, said the value of providing a confidential sounding board for people who are struggling should not be underestimated.

“I think a lot of people hesitate to speak with the people in their personal lives that way, whether it’s a discomfort in being that vulnerable or not wanting to burden their family members or their friends, who are probably also suffering right now,” she said. “That’s what I think is so cool about the objectivity that we can bring as volunteers operating the line.

“There’s an anonymity there, but it’s also about knowing that we are trained to field calls of this kind, we’re interested in making that connection and hearing what’s going on with that caller. I hope that it will prove to be useful to people who need it.”

A Celebration of the Extraordinary Amid once-in-a-lifetime circumstances, UCLA Luskin honors the Class of 2020

By Les Dunseith

It was a UCLA Luskin commencement ceremony unlike any other — delivered remotely by keynote speaker John A. Pérez to honor 281 graduates scattered across the nation and around the world amid a pandemic. 

“Clearly, these are not ordinary times,” Pérez said in his remarks, which remain available online and had been seen by a total of 1,265 new graduates and their loved ones as of midday Monday after the ceremony. The impact of the COVID-19 health crisis was obvious in the virtual setting, but Pérez, chair of the University of California Board of Regents and former speaker of the California Assembly, also took note of the political upheaval that has led hundreds of thousands of protesters worldwide to march for racial justice in recent weeks.

“My message to you today is also going to be somewhat different than usual. It has to be,” Pérez said. “It has to be different for George Floyd, for Breonna Taylor, for Stephon Clark and Sandra Bland and Eric Garner. For Sean Monterrosa and Manuel Ellis. And for Emmett Till and James Chaney and countless others — known and unknown — whose lives have been taken by the systemic racism that is the original sin and ongoing shame of our great nation.”

The new social welfare, planning and policy graduates earned their graduate degrees in extraordinary circumstances at a time that UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura views as a pivotal moment in the country’s history. He congratulated the Class of 2020 and also noted the high expectations they carry into their futures.

“This celebration is partly about what you have accomplished, but it is also about what you have yet to do,” said Segura, thanking the new graduates “for all that we expect you to do with all that you’ve learned.”

The virtual platform incorporated several wrinkles that set the 2020 celebration apart from previous UCLA Luskin graduations. In addition to the recorded remarks by Segura and Pérez, video presentations from California Gov. Gavin Newsom and his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, UC President Janet Napolitano and UCLA Chancellor Gene Block were woven into the online presentation that was made available to all graduates.

Other aspects of the ceremony were able to be customized for each of the three departments that awarded degrees. So, Chair Laura S. Abrams spoke to the Social Welfare graduates, Chair Vinit Mukhija addressed the Urban Planning Class of 2020, and Chair Martin Gilens offered advice and congratulations to the new Public Policy alumni.

Instead of the past tradition in which names of individual graduates were read as they walked across the stage at Royce Hall to be handed a diploma, this year’s graduating students got a few moments of dedicated screen time to themselves. Each graduate’s name appeared on screen as part of the departmental ceremony, often accompanied by a photo and a personal message of thanks or inspiration provided by the graduating student as a text message or a video clip — or both. And an online “Kudobard” allowed family and friends to offer messages of congratulations to the Class of 2020.

The presentations by the student speakers were also unique to each department this year. All three spoke of the memorable circumstances that they and their classmates experienced while wrapping up their graduate degrees during such an extraordinary time in history.

“No one wanted this. No one wants to live in this type of world,” said Social Welfare speaker Akinyi Shapiro, who views her graduation as a time for both celebration and reflection. “Listen to those who are being attacked for nothing other than the color of their skin. Decide who we want to be as social workers, how we’re going to change our communities and commit to anti-oppressive practices that will make this country better.”

Amy Zhou noted that the stay-at-home order in Los Angeles took place just as the winter quarter was winding up at UCLA. “We had no idea that the last time my classmates and I would see each other at the end of the winter quarter would be the last time that we would see each other in person as a graduating class.”

Zhou took advantage of the virtual platform to include a series of video clips that showed her and her classmates pledging solidarity in their dedication to practice planning in a manner that will uplift their communities. “When one falls, we all fall,” they conclude, their voices in unison. “When one rises, we all rise.”

As with any commencement, the virtual ceremony was also an opportunity for the graduating students to acknowledge their mentors — the faculty, friends and, especially, family members who have helped them along their journeys.

Muchisimas gracias,” said Kassandra Hernandez of Public Policy during her commencement remarks. “Thank you, mom and dad, for all that you’ve given me — all the sacrifices you have made for me.”

Hernandez then addressed her peers. “You are ready to take on the world and cause some change because we all know that that’s why we came to Luskin — to cause change.”

In his keynote address, Pérez also spoke of change. He talked about his time as a leader in California’s government, pointing to accomplishments such as health care reform and the creation of the state’s Rainy Day Fund. That financial reserve had grown to about $16 billion by the time of the pandemic, he noted, helping the current Legislature and governor lessen the economic damage from the COVID-19 downturn.

In Pérez’s view, making a meaningful difference to society requires not only a vision, but perseverance. 

“As graduates of one of the nation’s premier schools for progressive planning and policy, you need to be among the leaders. Make ripples. Make waves,” he said. “Push yourself. Push the system. And when you think you’ve pushed enough, take a step, take a pause, and then push some more.”

Racial, Class Disparities Found Amid Persistent Shortfall in 2020 Census Response A looming undercount puts the prospect of a complete and unbiased enumeration in doubt, according to a new report

By Les Dunseith

The national response rate to the U.S. Census continues to be well behind where it was at a similar point a decade ago, and the gap in self-responses is most evident in poor and minority communities, according to a new UCLA analysis of census data.

As of June 1, the nation’s 2020 census was approximately 6 percentage points behind the rate of response in 2010, according to co-author Paul Ong, a UCLA Luskin research professor and director of the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge. Although this rate is better than the shortfall of over 12 percentage points found in an earlier study, Ong said it is unlikely that the overall gap can be closed completely.

“More troubling is that poor and minority communities are systematically and disproportionately affected by the problems with the self-response rates,” Ong wrote in the new report. “These neighborhoods experienced lower response rates in 2010 than more advantaged neighborhoods, and the gap widened in 2020.”

The difference is most apparent in Black and Latino neighborhoods, which have historically had lower rates of response than white neighborhoods. The 2020 response in Latino neighborhoods is down 15.2% points, according to the report.

The findings also show that the poorer the community, the lower the census response rate, and that divide has widened over the past decade. For the poorest neighborhoods, the self-response rates dropped from 56.3% in 2010 to 45.3% by 2020. Other adversely affected groups include families with young children, limited English speakers and non-citizens.

The researchers project that the undercount they see in the 2020 Census has put the prospect of a complete and unbiased enumeration in doubt. In turn, this threatens and undermines the goal of having fair political representation and just resource allocation.

The fact that reporting gaps coincide with neighborhoods most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic further complicates the situation, especially during the phase of the census that involves in-person counts by census takers.

“This association makes in-person interactions and follow-up interviews riskier and more costly than originally planned,” the report notes.

Rather than addressing the overall shortfall in the most cost-effective manner by targeting neighborhoods that are easiest to count, the authors advocate devoting the bureau’s limited resources instead to neighborhoods that are harder to reach.

“If we believe in a fair count, it is more important to address racial and class disparities,” the authors write. “Under these circumstances, priorities must be realigned so that scarce resources are laser-focused on safe, and proven, evidence-based actions with hard-to-count populations.”

One approach would involve partnering with community and faith-based organizations that could help persuade more of the “hard to count” to participate, the report says.

The analysis is based primarily on examining the 2010 and 2020 response rates for census tracts, which is a proxy for neighborhoods. Paul Ong also is a founder of Ong & Associates, an economic and policy analysis consulting firm specializing in public interest issues, which provided services pro bono for the study. It was co-authored by Jonathan Ong.

State’s Black, Latino Workers Less Likely to Be Covered by Unemployment Insurance UCLA report recommends that California extend COVID-19 economic recovery funding to all workers

By Eliza Moreno

An analysis of unemployment in California at the height of the COVID-19 crisis shows that as many as 22% of Blacks and 26% of Latinos were jobless, compared to 17% of both white and Asian workers.

The new report, by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, is based not only on data from the filing of unemployment insurance claims, but also on labor statistics and U.S. Census data.

The paper examines the totality of the pandemic’s effect through mid-April on the California labor market by including estimates of the numbers of undocumented workers and so-called discouraged workers — people who want to be employed but are not actively engaged due to factors like job shortages, discrimination or a lack of requisite skills.

With state officials discussing a recovery package that will include adjustments to unemployment support, the UCLA report highlights the importance of including assistance for all types of workers, not just those who have filed unemployment claims. According to the study, roughly 1 million additional workers need assistance, and between 350,000 to 500,000 of them are undocumented.

“Many of the people facing devastating economic losses are in the shadows, and this report puts a figure to that loss so that policymakers understand where to focus their support as we move toward recovery,” said Sonja Diaz, founding director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative.

The report’s other key findings include:

  • More than 3 million workers in California have lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than any other state.
  • More than 900,000 Californians have lost their jobs due to layoffs and have stopped looking for work as a result of the pandemic.
  • Over a quarter of Californians experiencing job loss were ineligible for unemployment insurance.
  • One-third of Californians who are receiving unemployment insurance are Latino.
  • Latinos are 59% of Californians who are ineligible for unemployment insurance.

“Economic recovery can only be achieved by understanding who is hurting the most from the pandemic-induced recession,” said Chhandara Pech, a researcher at the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge and co-author of the paper. “Our report underscores that in the nation’s richest state, those at the bottom of the economic ladder need help the most.”

The report recommends that state policymakers expand the eligibility requirements for unemployment insurance, including for workers who may need to take time off to care for sick relatives. It also urges expansion of support to include health care and rental assistance, including for undocumented Californians.

The research brief is the fourth in a series of research papers examining the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on neighborhoods in Los Angeles County. Previous papers in the series found that Asian-American and Latino neighborhoods in Los Angeles County were most vulnerable due to the pandemic’s impact on the retail and service sectors, Latino neighborhoods were less likely to receive the individual rebate under the CARES Act, and many Blacks and Latinos live in neighborhoods that lack basic necessities during the county’s safer-at-home order.

The research is being conducted with assistance from Ong & Associates, an economic and policy analysis consulting firm specializing in public interest issues. Ong & Associates provided services pro bono for the study. Its founder is Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, which is housed in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.