In Memoriam: VC Powe A pivotal figure for decades at the Luskin School, Powe oversaw career counseling and programs in which public officials, community leaders and alumni mentor students

By Les Dunseith and Stan Paul

Longtime UCLA Luskin staff member VC Powe, executive director of external programs and career services, died Sept. 16 following complications from a serious illness. She was 66.

Powe BA ’75, MBA ’77 joined the School in 1998 and served in a variety of roles over the years, including director of alumni and government relations. From 1990-97, she worked for the UCLA Alumni Association. Powe also was an adjunct faculty member at Los Angeles City College, where she taught marketing and management.

At the time of her death, Powe, a longtime Culver City resident who was born in Los Angeles, oversaw counseling, internships and fellowships, plus the Bohnett Fellows and Senior Fellows programs, at the Luskin School. Powe, who was widely known on campus simply as VC, was instrumental in developing deep ties to civic leaders. 

“VC Powe was a powerful advocate for the Luskin School, its students and alumni,” Dean Gary Segura said. “She worked tirelessly to draw attention to our excellent students, and she never stopped trying to expand opportunities for them to partner with leading members of the Los Angeles community.”

Segura noted that her work with the Luskin Senior Fellows program connected UCLA Luskin students with elected officials, CEOs and the leaders of nonprofit, educational and philanthropic organizations.

“She paved the pathways for more careers in public affairs than we can count. The Luskin School of Public Affairs lost a bit of its heart this week,” Segura said. “VC will be deeply missed.”

Powe’s death was unrelated to COVID-19, but amid the ongoing pandemic, the family will be holding a private funeral service. Anyone wishing to send cards and other non-perishable items in memory of Powe can address them to VC Powe’s family in care of the Luskin School of Public Affairs, 337 Charles E. Young Drive East, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1656, and they will be forwarded to her family. Please note that on-campus mail delivery is only available via the U.S. Post Office at this time.

A Luskin School memorial will be announced at a later date.

In recognition of her role strengthening civic life in the region, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors announced that it will adjourn in her honor on Sept. 29.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who has longstanding ties to the Luskin School’s leadership programs, called Powe the “perfect combination of supreme competence, kindness and empathy.” 

“VC advocated tirelessly for students and worked to help so many individually,” Kuehl said. “When I was lucky enough to serve as a Regents’ professor, I would have been completely lost without her generous time. She will be deeply missed.”

Associate Dean Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, distinguished professor of urban planning, noted Powe’s contributions to vital programs such as Senior Fellows and Luskin City Hall Day and her guidance in helping students start their careers.

“It is so hard to imagine our Luskin School without VC. She was the nicest, kindest person, and utterly committed to our school and its alums,” Loukaitou-Sideris said. “She did her work with tremendous professionalism and grace, and always with a smile on her face.”

Loukaitou-Sideris added that Powe’s longtime role at the annual commencement was especially memorable.

“I will always remember VC, hidden from the large crowds, steadily guiding us toward one more commencement, orchestrated to perfection,” Loukaitou-Sideris said. 

Powe’s involvement in commencement was also a fond memory for Bill Parent, who recently retired from the Luskin School after serving as an instructor and member of the staff, where he worked alongside Powe for many years.

“My favorite mental image of VC Powe will forever be her standing front and center on the Royce Hall stage at the very end of commencement, smiling radiantly, her arms raised to signal the graduates to rise and go take on the world,” Parent recalled.

Powe’s enthusiastic guidance of UCLA Luskin students and alumni is well-known, but she was equally supportive of staff members such as Caroline Lee, who joined the Luskin School in July 2019 as a career counselor. 

“VC was the most amazing mentor and boss,” said Lee, the assistant director of career services. “She is the reason that I felt so comfortable moving across the country to begin a new chapter in my life. She had the unique quality to make people feel at ease and always welcome.”

Lee continued: “I have never seen someone more dedicated to the success of students.” 

Her contributions were many, but Powe’s success with the Senior Fellows program stands out to many as a signature accomplishment. Before she took over, Parent recalled, the fledgling Senior Fellows program was “pretty weak tea,” but that did not deter Powe.

“Year-by-year, fellow-by-fellow, student-by-student, event-by-event, VC nurtured the program into a rewarding honor for scores of fellows and hundreds of students, a centerpiece of engagement for the Luskin School and UCLA in the world of public leadership,” Parent said. 

Past and present fellows include elected officials, corporate CEOs, government leaders, entrepreneurs, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, prominent educators and numerous public servants with ties to the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. 

Powe was adept at matching the expectations of students to what fellows could reasonably offer as mentors, then maintaining contact and paying attention to the details to make things work, Parent said. This approach led to similar success with the Bohnett Fellows program and a wide range of internship programs under Powe’s guidance. 

“Near as I could tell, VC’s strongest faith was in the power of education — as a teacher, an administrator, and as a lifelong student of management and leadership,” Parent said. “She believed in UCLA. She believed in the Luskin School and the missions of our three graduate departments. In other words, she believed deeply in us. She dedicated her career, as a vocation, to helping every one of us succeed.”

Powe was also known as someone who went out of her way to welcome new additions to the Luskin School.

“When I first came back to UCLA in 2015, one of the first people who took me under her wing was VC,” recalled longtime elected official Zev Yaroslavsky, a UCLA alumnus who is now director of the Los Angeles Initiative at the Luskin School. “Her engaging smile, understated demeanor, intense commitment to our students, soothing voice, and total embrace of me let me know that I was back home.”

Yaroslavsky recalled that during his time as a public official he came to know Powe as UCLA Luskin’s emissary. 

“She came to meetings in my office, asked for advice on how to place more students in jobs, and proselytized me on the great work being done at Luskin,” Yaroslavsky said of Powe’s relentless efforts to advance the School and its students. “She was preaching to the converted.”

Former colleagues across the UCLA campus recalled some of Powe’s other contributions. Keith Parker, a former assistant vice chancellor of government and community relations, said Powe was a friend and colleague for more than 25 years.

“She was someone that always offered a smile, extended a helping hand and took a moment to let you know that she cared about you,” Parker said. “I always told her VC stood for ‘Very Caring.’”

In the 1990s, when Powe was working for the UCLA Alumni Association, outreach to alumni of African American descent was a key focus. “She developed a number of successful outreach programs that brought alums back to UCLA as engaged, supportive alumni,” Parker said. “She worked on the initial Summer Youth Employment Program that brought low-income high school students to UCLA for not only employment experiences, but also exposure to the benefits of higher education.” 

After she moved over to the Luskin School, Powe was the principal partner with UCLA Government and Community Relations in the annual School of Public Affairs Day at City Hall during which UCLA Luskin graduate students visit with the mayor, council members and department heads for the City of Los Angeles. 

Those meetings focus on an important issue facing the city each year, and the students subsequently produce a white paper with well-researched recommendations, Parker said. “The City Hall Day programs could not have happened without VC.”

Powe’s career history in the late 1970s and 1980s includes employment at May Co., as well as positions in advertising and marketing at the Los Angeles Times. She worked for five years with Inroads, helping to produce business seminars, and she taught business economics at the junior high school level for two years.

She was a former United Way/Kellogg Training Center certified volunteer trainer, a member of the Southern California Leadership Network and a volunteer for the UCLA Alumni Association’s scholarship selection programs. 

She held professional certifications in Organization and Human Resource Development (sponsored by the American Society for Training and Development) and Online Teaching from UCLA Extension. 

Powe was preceded in death by her mother, Vivian Carrell (Burbridge) Hines. She is survived by her father, Bolden Eugene Hines; her husband, Keith Powe; and three sisters, Brenda Kelly, Roberta Lecour and La Lita Green.

Friends and former colleagues of VC Powe are encouraged to contribute their reminiscences for an online tribute page by commenting on the UCLA Luskin Facebook page or by emailing news@luskin.ucla.edu.

Bruins Play Key Roles in Report Calling for Sweeping Reforms in L.A. Dean Gary Segura and Luskin School students are among the many UCLA contributors to ambitious effort to reimagine life in the region from a racial justice perspective

By Les Dunseith

A new report that lays out a road map for the transformation of the Los Angeles region built on racial equity is rooted in research from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. The report’s co-authors are Gary Segura, dean of the Luskin School, and Manuel Pastor, director of the University of Southern California’s Equity Research Institute.

The paper, “No Going Back: Together for an Equitable and Inclusive Los Angeles,” was issued Sept. 9 and shared with a UCLA audience Sept. 15 at a virtual salon. At more than 250 pages, the report is a comprehensive examination of the hidden barriers to success that limited many of the city’s residents even before COVID-19, but have been exacerbated since the pandemic began.

A wide swath of the Bruin community contributed to the paper. Numerous faculty and staff members provided new research, offered historical context and analyzed existing data. UCLA alumni serve on the Committee for Greater LA, which developed the report. And a handful of current UCLA students conducted research that fed the recommendations.

 

Those students, Antonio Elizondo, Dan Flynn, Mariesa Samba and Ellen Schwartz, share a passion for building a new Los Angeles grounded in social justice and racial equity.

Flynn, a second-year graduate student, contributed to the report’s sections on health and homelessness. His experience working with nonprofit agencies has made him acutely aware of the need to think differently about the region’s homelessness crisis.

“You’re looking at 70,000 unhoused people in Los Angeles at any given point,” Flynn said. “There’s no way to look at that issue and describe it as anything other than a failure — and a catastrophic one, with immense human cost. There has been a failure to build systems of accountability and to hold people responsible and accountable.”

Setting forth a strategy to create accountability to end homelessness is among 10 guiding principles (PDF) that underlie the report, which also tackles economic justice, mental and physical health, child and family well-being and other topics.

Samba is pursuing a master’s in social welfare and is a graduate student researcher at the Black Policy Project at UCLA. She contributed to sections of the report that related to children, families, mental health and justice.

“A lot of the work that I do is within the community with folks who are directly impacted by the pandemic,” she said. “Especially with this project, my top-line goal was to uplift those voices and experiences into the research.”

The report builds on the personal insights of the researchers and the people they interviewed to identify social problems, pairing those lived experiences with data to point toward solutions. For example, research findings about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education highlighted the region’s racial disparities. Under Los Angeles’ safer-at-home orders, Black and Latino schoolchildren have been far less likely to be able to engage successfully in remote learning because of a lack of computers and access to high-speed internet connections.

As Segura noted during a Sept. 9 webinar to unveil the report to the general public, public officials are expected to ensure that residents have access to electricity, trash collection and a sewer system — so why not something as vital as the internet?

“The time has come for us to think about the internet as what it has become,” he said. “It is a civil right.”

The opportunity to think about such issues in new ways appealed to the UCLA Luskin students who played a role. Plus, there were practical benefits. For example, Schwartz was happy to work on the transportation section of the report because that’s her area of concentration as an urban planning master’s student. But her biggest takeaway from the experience was the mindset of the project’s leaders.

“What I loved seeing is how the community leaders on the committee really focused on empowerment. That’s something that I want to take with me into my own career,” she said.

“… work remains to be done to prevent those long-term effects from being catastrophic.”

—Antonio Elizondo

Elizondo, a master’s student in urban planning, said during the virtual salon that the most impactful aspect of his involvement in the project came during his review of interviews with people impacted by the health crisis and thinking about the repercussions.

“At the moment, it’s an unfolding crisis, so every policy response is a short-term response,” Elizondo said. “This project helped me realize that there will be long-term effects, and how much work remains to be done to prevent those long-term effects from being catastrophic.”

The Committee for Greater LA comprises a diverse group of civic and community leaders and a joint research team from UCLA Luskin and the USC Equity Research Institute. Initially, the committee intended primarily to address the racial disparities exposed by the pandemic, but in the wake of the recent police-involved killings of Black people and the nationwide protests that followed, its focus expanded to encompass a broader understanding of systemic racism.

The UCLA students helped Segura with the policy-related aspects of the report, which cover issues like housing affordability, immigrant rights, alternatives to incarceration, transportation and equitable access to health care, among others. Because of the pandemic, the work had to be coordinated via phone, email and Zoom sessions.

Flynn, who is pursuing a master’s in public policy, said he appreciated the chance to work directly with the dean on a project of such ambition and scope.

“What makes UCLA such a special place is that you have world-class academics and practitioners who are not just interested in generating work but are interested in mentorship and teaching and in giving opportunities to the next generation of policymakers,” he said.

As gratifying as the work was, the students realize the real work is still to come. Schwartz said she’s hopeful that society is ready to adopt the meaningful change advocated in the report.

“We live in a world where people are really isolated and don’t always know what’s going on in the community,” she said. “I hope that this report will just shed some light on issues that people are facing and that it will inspire elected officials to take action and make real, lasting changes to the system.”

Samba said her participation offered a unique opportunity to process her emotions about the extraordinary impact of the COVID-19 crisis, particularly because of how it coincided with the growing racial justice movement — and she sees cause for hope.

“We’re at a point in time where we are trying new things,” Samba said. “We’re able to experiment with our justice system, with our foster care system, with what social services look like, with what community care looks like. I would like to see some of those social experiments — some of those new ideas and visions — become real, and for us not to revert to the status quo. I would love to see us really, actually reimagine what a more racially equitable future looks like for the people of Los Angeles.”

Among the other UCLA connections to the effort: The Committee for Greater LA is chaired by Miguel Santana, a member of the Luskin School’s advisory board, and the project is funded in part by philanthropists who have also supported UCLA.

The Committee for Greater LA has invited interested parties, including policymakers and candidates for elected office, to join in making the #NoGoingBackLA promise, a commitment to build a more equitable and inclusive Los Angeles. Sign up at nogoingback.la.

1 in 5 Tenants in L.A. Has Struggled to Pay Rent During Pandemic, Study Finds Thousands of renters are at risk of eviction with moratorium set to expire; tens of thousands more are in a deep financial hole

By Claudia Bustamante

Twenty-two percent of Los Angeles County tenants paid rent late at least once from April to July, while between May and July, about 7% did not pay any rent at least once, according to a joint UCLA–USC report released today as a statewide eviction moratorium is set to expire.

The report documents the hardships faced by tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it traces those hardships overwhelmingly to lost work and wages as a result of the economic shutdown.

Among households in the county that did not pay rent, either in full or partially, about 98,000 tenants have been threatened with an eviction, while an additional 40,000 report that their landlord has already begun eviction proceedings against them. California’s moratorium on evictions was scheduled to end Sept. 1, but at the last minute, lawmakers extended protections through Jan. 31, 2021. Federal action to protect renters from eviction at the national level through December 2020 has also been enacted.

The report by researchers at the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate analyzed data from the U.S. Census, as well as data from an original survey conducted in July 2020 of 1,000 Los Angeles County renter households. The survey, in particular, gave the researchers new insights into the circumstances facing renters. The study was authored by Michael ManvillePaavo Monkkonen and Michael Lens, all with the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, and Richard Green, director of the USC Lusk Center.

“I think everyone understood, early on, that renters might be in trouble as a result of COVID-19 and its economic fallout, but conventional sources of data don’t give us a good window into whether renters are paying or not, and into how they are paying if they do pay,” said lead author Manville, an associate professor of urban planning. “We were able, by using data from a special census survey, and especially our own original survey of renters, to get a direct sense of these questions.”

The researchers first analyzed the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, a weekly survey that asked if renters have paid rent on time and if they think they will be able to pay the next month’s rent on time. This data was augmented by the UCLA Luskin–USC Lusk survey, which asked not only if renters paid on time but if they paid in full and if they were threatened with an eviction or had eviction proceedings initiated against them.

The study found that tenants have been facing unprecedented hardships during the COVID-19 crisis, substantially more so than homeowners. Overall, the study also found that most tenants are still paying their rent during the pandemic but are often doing so by relying on unconventional funding sources. The majority who pay late or not at all have either lost their work, gotten sick with COVID-19 or both.

Among the findings:

  •  About 16% of tenants report paying rent late each month from April through July.
  •  About 10% did not pay rent in full for at least one month between May and July.
  •  About 2% of renters are three full months behind on rent. This translates to almost 40,000 households in a deep financial hole.
  •  Late payment and nonpayment are strongly associated with very low incomes (households earning less than $25,000 annually) and being Black or Hispanic.
  •  Nonpayment is more common among tenants who rent from friends and family.

This crisis is particularly acute in the Los Angeles region and other high-cost cities, where an existing affordable housing crisis and an economic slowdown resulting from mitigation efforts to curb the pandemic intersect to threaten the stability of many households.

“Even before the pandemic, L.A. renters, especially low-income renters, were struggling,” said Lens, associate faculty director of the UCLA Lewis Center. And while most renters who miss rent have entered into some type of repayment plan, they’re not out of the woods yet.

“Nonpayment occurs disproportionately among the lowest-income renter households, so repaying back rent could be a tremendous burden for them,” Lens said.

The study also found that renters were suffering disproportionately from anxiety, depression and food scarcity, and they are relying much more than in the past on credit cards, family and friends, and payday loans to cover their expenses. One-third of households with problems paying rent relied on credit card debt and about 40% used emergency payday loans.

The prevalence of these nonconventional forms of payment, along with the incidence of job loss among tenants, suggests the importance of direct income assistance to renter households.

Tenants collecting unemployment insurance were 39% less likely to miss rent payments. Just 5% of households that hadn’t lost a job or fallen sick reported not paying the rent.

Co-author Green, director of the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate, said that although data show that most renters have been paying their rent, government policies can help strengthen the ability to do so.

“One of the main concerns among landlords at the beginning of the pandemic was that tenants weren’t going to pay their rent if they knew they weren’t going to be evicted,” Green said. “Not only have we not seen any evidence of this, but getting money in renters’ hands through unemployment insurance or rental assistance helps a lot.”

Co-author Monkkonen, an associate professor of urban planning and public policy, agreed.

Helping renters now will not only stave off looming evictions next month but “also prevent cumulative money problems that are no less serious, such as renters struggling to pay back credit card debt, struggling to manage a repayment plan or emerging from the pandemic with little savings left,” he said.

Across the state, most evictions were halted in April by the California Judicial Council, the state’s court policymaking body. The eviction moratorium was set to expire in June, but it had been postponed to Sept. 1 to allow local and state lawmakers more time to develop further protections, including the bill currently under consideration. Given the unconventional means renters reported using to pay rent, the new study says that policies that provide funds to renters could help mitigate a raft of evictions and homelessness that had been predicted by previous reports by researchers at UCLA and elsewhere.

The study was funded by the Luskin School, the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate, the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate, and the California Community Foundation.

Black, Latino Renters Far More Likely to Be Facing Housing Displacement During Pandemic Systemic racial inequality underlies nonpayment of rent, UCLA Luskin researchers say

By Les Dunseith

A new study of the magnitude, pattern and causes of COVID-19’s impact on California housing reveals that Black people and Latinos are more than twice as likely as whites to be experiencing rent-related hardships.

The analysis by researchers from the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge and Ong & Associates, in coordination with the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, relies on the U.S. Census Bureau’s weekly Household Pulse Survey, a multiagency effort to collect information on the social and economic effects of COVID-19 on Americans. The research findings are based on pooling a 10-week sample of more than 22,000 adults in California for the period from April 23 to July 7.

During the pandemic, workers, families, businesses and communities have experienced enormous financial difficulties, and the new study estimates that more than 1.9 million adults in California were unable to pay their rent on time in early July. The finding that Black and Latino renters are particularly vulnerable echoes previous analyses showing that minority renters are more likely to be suffering economically during the pandemic.

“These systematic racial or ethnoracial disparities are the product of systemic inequality,” UCLA Luskin research professor Paul Ong writes in the study. “People of color, low-income individuals, and those with less education and skills are most at risk.”

An analysis of the survey responses shows that people of color are disproportionately more concentrated in the lower-income and lower-education brackets, and they entered the crisis with fewer financial and human capital resources. Those people of color who lost their jobs or suffered a significant earnings loss during the pandemic were therefore far more likely to fall behind on rent.

When the researchers looked closely at who was unable to pay rent during the period of study, they found that 23% were Black and 20% were Latino — more than double the 9% for both whites and Asians.

In her foreword to the study, UCLA urban planning professor Ananya Roy, the director of the Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, writes, “An especially important finding of the report is that across socioeconomic status categories, Black and Latinx households are more likely to be unable to pay rent compared to non-Hispanic whites and Asian Americans, a stark reminder of the entrenched racial disparities that are being rearticulated and amplified by the present crisis.”

The researchers delved deeper into the data to compare the experiences of various ethnic and racial groups based on demographic characteristics such as level of education. They found that Black and Latino respondents with some college education had higher rates of nonpayment of rent than whites and Asian Americans with similar educations. Racial disparities were evident even when the researchers focused on employment and earnings categories related to COVID-19.

“In other words,” Ong writes, “the pattern indicates that racial inequality is not due simply to class differences.”

Many experts believe this situation will lead to a wave of evictions in coming months unless governments take steps to protect people who have fallen behind on rent during the crisis. This includes extending the state’s eviction moratorium, continuing supplemental employment benefits and providing financial assistance to offset accumulated rent debt.

In a July 27 webinar hosted by the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, Paul Ong, Ananya Roy and others discuss the potential for mass COVID-19–related evictions in Los Angeles if current tenant protections are not extended.

The researchers did uncover some disparate patterns across ethnoracial groups. For example, the correlation between a lower income and the inability to pay rent was pronounced for both whites and Latinos, but it was minimal, and statistically insignificant, for Asians and Black people. The impact of less education was very pronounced for Black people but only minimally so for the other three groups. The effect of earnings losses was far greater for Black and Latino people than for white and Asian people.

Perhaps most surprising, the researchers said, was the effect of joblessness. While a loss of work led to an increased likelihood of nonpayment of rent among Asian and Latino people, it marginally decreased the odds of rental difficulties among white and Black people.

“One reasonable explanation is disparate access to unemployment insurance,” Ong writes in the study. He noted that Asians and Latinos may have less access to this type of financial relief — which can more than replace lost wages — because many work in informal ethnic job sectors and also face linguistic, cultural and legal barriers to applying for and collecting unemployment benefits.

The study urges elected officials to extend and expand unemployment insurance benefits. The researchers also call for the renewal of temporary tenant protections and say that financial relief should be provided to both renters and landlords.

Overall, the study’s findings show that prepandemic inequalities and pandemic labor-market hardships amplify systemic racial disparities. The economic impact on low-income and minority populations is likely to be long-lasting because so many people will have amassed a huge debt of deferred rents.

“Many will struggle to find meaningful employment in a protracted and uneven economic recovery,” Ong writes. “It is very likely that race will shape who will be most hurt.”

Ong is the director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. He also founded Ong & Associates, an economic and policy analysis consulting firm that specializes in public interest issues and provided services pro bono for this study.

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.

 

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.