Participation in 2020 U.S. Census Is Falling Behind UCLA analysis shows the current rate of response is at least 11 percentage points lower than in 2010

By Les Dunseith

The national response rate to the U.S. Census is lagging well behind where it was at a similar point a decade ago, according to an analysis spearheaded by Paul Ong, a research professor and director of the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge.

Ong said shutdown orders related to the novel coronavirus pandemic seem to be a factor in suppressing the response rate, which is now at least 11 percentage points lower than it was for the 2010 census through late April.

The UCLA researchers noted that the self-response phase of the current census began March 12, which happened to coincide with mandated restrictions on gatherings and physical movements imposed in the state of Washington by Gov. Jay Inslee — some of the earliest such rules in the nation. His order also closed all schools in the three counties most affected by the coronavirus at the time.

Within a week, even more extreme physical distancing measures were in effect in states such as Washington, California and New York — and soon throughout the nation — as public officials ordered businesses to close and citizens to remain at home in an attempt to slow the advance of COVID-19.

Paul Ong is director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin. Photo by UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs

“April 1 was designated as Census Day in an effort to highlight the importance of a complete and accurate count of American citizens,” said Ong, who has served as an adviser to the U.S. Census Bureau as part of his scholarly activities at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “But that designation proved to be ceremonial at best, drawing little media notice or public attention with the vast majority of Americans hunkered down at home as a result of the shelter-in-place strategy.”

Ong said his findings are worrisome and seemingly at odds with the positive message coming from the Census Bureau. A bureau email blast sent in late April, for example, declared “an important milestone in the 2020 Census. More than half of all the households in the country have responded — that’s 77,500,000 households so far!”

Ong said crossing the halfway mark in the census count is less impressive when one looks below the surface. He noted, for example, that on April 18, the New York Times reported that the COVID-19 crisis had seriously hampered the response to the census, causing the Census Bureau to adjust its timeline and prolong the collection process to counter any shortfalls. The agency had earlier extended deadlines to complete its operations.

“The adjustments are framed and justified as necessary to protect the health of census workers and the public, which is obviously valid and prudent,” Ong said. “But nothing was mentioned about the need to extend census operations because of any possible lack of progress.”

The 2020 census is the first to allow people to respond online, by phone or by mail, while the 2010 census was limited to mail responses only.

In its analysis, the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge compared the overall response rate so far to the mail-in rate at the same point for the 2010 census. The researchers looked at both the 2010 mail-response rate — the total number of filled-in and returned forms divided by the total number of addresses in the government’s master address file — and the mail-return rate, the number of returned forms divided only by the number deliverable and non-vacant addresses.

 

When the three measures are plotted on a graph, it is apparent that a slowdown in 2020 census responses coincides with the timing of the COVID-19 crisis. By March 22, the 2020 rate had slipped below the rate of return for both of the 2010 measures and has continued to lag since then. Since April 24, the date of the email blast from the Census Bureau, the 2020 response rate has never gotten closer than 11 percentage points below both of the 2010 measures, the UCLA analysis shows.

The researchers note that because the 2010 mail-return rate has a smaller denominator, it has a higher value than the 2010 mail-response rate. According to the Census Bureau, the 2010 mail-response is more compatible with how the 2020 response rate is being calculated.

Besides the COVID-19 pandemic, other factors may be hindering 2020 responses, Ong said. Those barriers may include a lack of access to the internet, which is the primary mode of data collection for the 2020 census; a nationwide increase in vacant and seasonal housing; and the growth of the historically harder-to-reach Hispanic population.

The decennial census is required so that congressional seats can be reapportioned to account for geographic shifts in the population. The official count is also used for redrawing electoral district boundaries for congressional, state legislative and local jurisdictions. Equally important, the numbers are used in allocating public funds and helping to provide a clearer picture of the nation’s population and housing stock.

Unless steps are taken immediately to boost response rates, Ong is worried that the 2020 census is experiencing “a real and present danger of having one of the most incomplete census enumerations in history.”

Based on historical precedent, the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge analysis predicts that an undercount would disproportionately affect low-income residents, people of color and immigrants.

“The Census Bureau is not to be blamed for the dire circumstances that have upended everyone’s life,” Ong said. “What is required now, however, is mobilizing community organizations and groups to work collaboratively with public agencies to minimize the damage. We need to focus scarce resources to do everything in our power to ensure inclusion in the census of society’s most marginalized people and neighborhoods.”

Questions about the study may be directed to Paul Ong at pmong@ucla.edu

To inquire about the proprietary data used to build the chart, contact Les Dunseith at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, ldunseith@luskin.ucla.edu

‘All of This Is Going to Change Us’: Two Deans on the State of COVID-19 Leaders of UCLA's Public Affairs and Public Health schools launch Luskin Summit 2020

By Mary Braswell

The opening session of the 2020 UCLA Luskin Summit drew a far-flung virtual audience seeking authoritative, research-based information about the questions on everyone’s mind: What are the prospects of containing COVID-19? When and how should social distancing restrictions be relaxed? What have we learned from this shared global ordeal?

Two UCLA deans, Gary Segura of the Luskin School of Public Affairs and Ron Brookmeyer of the Fielding School of Public Health, drew on their expertise about the pandemic’s health and policy implications at the April 22 event, the first of at least a dozen online sessions that will be offered by the Luskin School in April, May and June.

“COVID has done us one favor,” Segura said. “It’s allowed us to see things more clearly than we did before the crisis,” including the searing depths of inequality in the United States, the importance of a competent government and the discovery that a simpler life can be rewarding.

In terms of slowing the spread of coronavirus, Brookmeyer said, “The current lockdown has bought ourselves some time. The question is, are we making the best use of this time?”

The insights shared by Segura and Brookmeyer came as UCLA Luskin launched the Summit’s second year, wrapping up the School’s 25th anniversary celebration.

Moving from an on-campus location to an online platform in response to the coronavirus’ spread widened the audience for the opening session. More than 400 people watched via Zoom and Facebook Live, from Southern California to New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Houston and Myanmar.

Viewers were invited to pose questions to the deans, whose conversation was moderated by Adrienne Alpert, host of ABC7’s public affairs program Eyewitness Newsmakers. Some asked about prospects for lifting orders to limit social contact.

Brookmeyer called for caution. “If we don’t have the necessary public health infrastructure in place, this thing will just explode again,” said the dean, who has conducted extensive research into the arc of illness and epidemic around the world.

He explained that different models make starkly different predictions about the virus’ march and described the protracted process of testing, manufacturing and administering an effective vaccine — a process he said is bound to take longer than the 12 to 18 months some are estimating.

“Without a vaccine, we may need intermittent periods of physical distancing to avoid overloading the health care facilities,” he said. “If we suppress this first wave, do we have the public health infrastructure in place to contain future waves?”

The eventual relaxation of social distancing restrictions should be gradual, strategic and nuanced, he said, predicting that wearing masks, sanitizing surfaces and closely monitoring the most vulnerable populations will be necessary for some time.

“All of this is going to change us, and it’s not completely clear how,” Brookmeyer said.

“The challenges, and particularly the inequities, are going to be profound,” Segura concurred.

Latino households are particularly hard hit by the coronavirus’ economic impact, he said, citing a nationwide survey. While proposals to institute relief for those unable to pay their rent or mortgage are promising, the number of homeless is bound to rise by the end of the crisis. And the need for computers and broadband access in homes — where K-12 students are now learning remotely — has turned public education into a “luxury good,” Segura said.

Still, both deans found cause for optimism.

Brookmeyer cited the public’s new appreciation for the people and institutions that guard the nation’s health. “The public health infrastructure had been really underfunded, and I think calling attention to this will help us in preparing for future public health emergencies,” he said.

Segura pointed out that “COVID is changing our lives in a million ways,” and not all of them are bad.

One example: “Has anyone noticed the air in Los Angeles? It’s crystal clear,” he said. “Do we want to go back to sitting on the 405 [freeway] for an hour?”

By necessity, telecommuting has been tested across sectors in the past few months, Segura noted. Some employers have found new ways to measure productivity, and some workers have found valuable uses for time once spent commuting.

“These are things that we’ve become used to and that we’ve internalized into our COVID quarantine lives. And I’m not so sure we’re going to be all that happy to give them up,” he said.

“COVID has actually revealed some things that we can do better to improve our quality of life.”

Visit the UCLA Luskin Summit page for a lineup of upcoming sessions, as well as recordings of past sessions as they become available.

Perseverance Amid the Pandemic UCLA Luskin alumni social workers reveal some fear and frustration and a whole lot of dedication

By Les Dunseith

Social workers. They are still out there.

They still walk Skid Row despite the COVID-19 pandemic. They still go to homes where children are in need. They still report to work at hospitals where patients die alone and families need to be located and told. It’s their job — their essential job — and they’re still doing it despite extraordinary circumstances that are making already difficult roles even more challenging.

“On a personal level, these social workers are making sacrifices of their own health, and potentially the health of their families, in order to continue to serve,” said Laura Abrams, professor of social welfare. “They know that they’re taking that risk, but they feel like it’s important to them. It’s their responsibility.”

Founded in 1947, the UCLA program is widely known and highly respected, particularly in California, where most of the 90 to 100 graduates each year go to work for city, county or state social services agencies.

Abrams, who is chair of social welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, knows this because she’s been talking to some of them, connecting with alumni of her program for Zoom calls to find out how they are doing.

What is it like for social workers right now?

Lavit Maas in her personal protective gear.

Lavit Maas, who graduated in 2010 with her master’s in social welfare, works for the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health’s Homeless Outreach and Mobility Engagement team, which provides care on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles for homeless people with severe mental illness. Maas works with people who are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.

“There’s a lot of elderly on Skid Row,” she told Abrams. “There’s a lot of people with medical conditions. It’s terrifying because we don’t know what to do [for them]. It makes me sad.”

Gabby Peraza, a 2019 master’s in social welfare graduate, works with foster youth as part of her job with the county department of children and family services. Soon after the safer at home order was issued, she encountered a young girl who needed to be transferred to a new placement but was frightened by Peraza’s protective gear. The child cowered in fear, hiding behind a foster parent.

“I had to make the decision. I’m either going to have a kid crying with me — and forcing that kid into a car with me,” Peraza recalled. “I said, ‘All right, I’m going to take this mask off, take these gloves off, and just engage with this kid.’ ”

Abrams has been recording her video interviews, and they are being edited for privacy and clarity before being posted for educational purposes on a showcase page maintained by the Luskin School. [Or scroll to the bottom to view.] So far, eight interviews have been completed and three have been posted publicly. In all, Abrams expects to do at least eight, with interviewees who reflect the broad swath of roles in which social workers are employed.

The idea came to Abrams soon after she and her family moved inside to comply with the social distancing order that was issued March 19 in Los Angeles County.

“I felt very disconnected from what was happening out in the real world,” Abrams said.

A conversation about the impact that the coronavirus pandemic was having on a close friend in a medical career led Abrams to realize that few people were thinking about her former and current students in UCLA’s social welfare program. She knew they were being affected too, but how? So she reached out on Facebook to see if anyone wanted to talk.

“Social workers, they’re playing a vital role in this pandemic,” said Abrams, noting that they interact with people at the margins of society who are often overlooked by the general public and in media reports. “What’s happening out in the community, especially with really vulnerable populations like homeless folks or people in the jails or children in foster care?”

Abrams said she has learned a lot from the Zoom calls. For one thing, the feeling of personal safety varies from person to person and job to job. A social worker in a hospital, for example, said she had access to personal protective equipment and felt safe. But those who work for government agencies, however, said they were fearful about their level of protection from the novel coronavirus.

Many social workers said they are facing unexpected dilemmas, and “working in spaces in which their clients are not getting what they need,” Abrams said. For example, an alumna who works in a correctional facility observed that people being imprisoned there were not given proper access to soap and water so they could comply with orders to frequently wash their hands.

A surprise from her interviews was discovering that some facilities and social services are actually being underutilized at the moment. The number of cases being handled is less than usual for Peraza and for Madison Hayes, another 2019 master’s in social welfare graduate, who works in Sacramento at a shelter for foster youth. For both, the decline in cases mirrors a steep drop-off in calls to crisis hotlines and a lack of referrals from the mandatory reporters at public schools.

“We know that things like abuse and other family problems are probably increasing, but calls … are decreasing so dramatically,” Abrams said. “Child protection is basically falling apart because there’s no window to the outside world.”

Gabby Peraza was a student commencement speaker in 2019.

Talking to social workers in the field has also reminded Abrams of the inequities that always exist in society.

“Access to health care: What does that mean?” Abrams asked. “Access to even having a home, to being sheltered? I am seeing the racial disparities and seeing the ways that the haves and the have-nots have different levels of access at this time.”

The interviews have also reminded Abrams of one other important — and more hopeful — aspect of society. People keep doing their jobs despite the risks involved.

“We all knew coming into this career that there’s always going to be a risk,” Peraza told Abrams about what it’s like to be a social worker during this crisis. “We just didn’t think it was going to be this type of risk.”

Peraza said it’s not about herself, it’s about the children and the families she serves.

Maas acknowledged the risks to her own health and the fear of getting infected and passing the virus along to a colleague or loved one. But there is work to be done.

“I love being a social worker and, to me, service is the only thing that matters,” Maas said. “Of course, you can’t be of service if you can’t protect yourself. I know that. But, especially in a time like this, I have to be of service.

 

 

 

Residents in L.A.’s Latino Neighborhoods Less Likely to Receive Relief Funds Researchers from UCLA Luskin combine forces to recommend that local leaders fill gaps in COVID-19 stimulus funding

By Eliza Moreno

Fifty-six percent of Latino-majority neighborhoods in Los Angeles County have a high proportion of residents at high risk for not receiving individual relief funds from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act, according to a UCLA report.

The paper was written by researchers from the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge.

Its findings provide information that local and state officials can use to target resources and communications efforts in neighborhoods that are experiencing widespread economic distress. The CARES Act was passed by Congress in response to the economic disruptions associated with COVID-19; the measure includes payments to cover citizens’ basic needs.

“The global pandemic has put a spotlight on the cracks in our social safety net that often fail to catch those living in poverty, which disproportionately are people of color and immigrants,” said Sonja Diaz, founding director of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and a co-author of the report. “Entire neighborhoods will face economic uncertainty, and a public health crisis is not the time to ignore their needs. We are only as healthy as our most vulnerable, and many communities in Los Angeles County will need targeted assistance.”

The Los Angeles neighborhoods where residents are least likely to receive a stimulus check are concentrated in downtown Los Angeles, including Westlake/MacArthur Park, Koreatown, Chinatown, Skid Row and Pico Union.

Those most at risk for not receiving relief funding tend to be lower income, people of color, and live primarily in renter neighborhoods. Immigrants also have an elevated risk, according to the report.

“The lack of support puts entire communities at risk here in Los Angeles County and requires immediate attention,” said Paul Ong, the study’s lead author and director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, which is housed in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. Ong also is the founder of Ong & Associates, an economic and policy analysis consulting firm specializing in public interest issues, which provided services pro bono for the study.

The report recommends that state and local governments in the affected neighborhoods provide targeted support, including cash assistance and other social benefits, regardless of recipients’ citizenship status.

The report is the second analysis by the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge on the economic effects of the COVID-19 crisis on underserved neighborhoods. A report published on April 1 examined economic vulnerability due to retail and service sector closures across Los Angeles County neighborhoods.

Anxiety About Coronavirus Is Widespread in L.A. County Roughly 4 in 5 residents in new UCLA Luskin survey express deep concern about the health and economic impacts of COVID-19

By Les Dunseith

An overwhelming percentage (78%) of Los Angeles County residents say they are concerned that they or a member of their family will contract the novel coronavirus, according to a survey conducted between March 18 and 26 and released today by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

A solid majority (61%) of respondents expressed confidence in the response by local officials to the pandemic, but only 39% had similar confidence in the federal response.

“There are two clear takeaways,” said Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, which conducted the survey as part of an annual project known as the Quality of Life Index, or QLI. “The anxiety levels over contracting the virus and its economic impacts are overwhelming. And it’s a vote of confidence in the local public health agencies, while a vote of no confidence in the federal response.”

The results are based on interviews conducted with about 1,500  county residents during a period that happened to coincide with the implementation of stay-at-home orders in Los Angeles.

The QLI, which is a joint project of the UCLA Luskin Los Angeles Initiative and The California Endowment, is in its fifth year. Researchers poll a cross-section of Los Angeles County residents each year to understand the public’s perception of the quality of their own lives. Full results will be released April 23 as part of a UCLA event known as the Luskin Summit, which will be held virtually this year because of the ongoing health crisis. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6%.

Respondents indicated that they were very concerned (49%), somewhat concerned (29%), not too concerned (13%) or not concerned at all (7%) that they or a member of their family would contract the novel coronavirus. Women over the age of 50 expressed the greatest concern (62% were very concerned).

When asked whether the health crisis had or will have a negative economic impact on themselves personally, more than four out of five respondents (83%) said they were concerned, with 56% saying very concerned and 27% saying somewhat concerned. Again, women expressed the most concern, although in this case it was slightly higher among women aged 18 to 49 (61%) than among women aged 50 to 64 (60%).

Two questions were asked about the response of public health and government officials to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the results were almost mirror opposites. When asked if they were confident in the response of officials in Los Angeles County, 61% of respondents said yes and 31% said no, but just 39% said yes and 55% said no when asked if they were confident in the response of officials in the federal government. These results were generally consistent among demographic and geographic groups.

“In virtually no major demographic group did we find less than a majority expressing confidence in local officials,” Yaroslavsky said.

Some of the highest marks for local officials came from those aged 50 to 74 (69%), men aged 50 to 64 (72%) and women 65 and older (70%), as well as Latinos over age 50 (70%). Residents in every L.A. County supervisorial district expressed at least 59% confidence as a whole.

Hardly any major demographic group expressed majority confidence in the federal response. The lowest confidence levels came from 18-to-39-year-olds (33%), African Americans (32%), women aged 18 to 49 (31%), those with annual incomes above $120,000 (30%), whites aged 18 to 49 (23%) and residents of the 3rd Supervisorial District (28%), which encompasses Westside communities such as Santa Monica and Malibu, plus the north and western sections of the San Fernando Valley.

The QLI was prepared in partnership with the public opinion research firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates.

For 30 Years, Lewis Center Has Responded to L.A. Issues With Ideas All six current and former directors gather to recall the challenges and successes they experienced while leading regional policy research at UCLA

By Lauren Hiller

During a gathering March 5 at its first home on the UCLA campus, the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies commemorated 30 years of scholarship, public advocacy and leadership on campus and in the community.

All five former Lewis Center directors — a who’s who of distinguished scholars — joined the current director, Urban Planning Professor Evelyn Blumenberg, at DeCafe Perloff Hall to discuss the milestones and issues facing the region during each person’s tenure. As each director spoke, it was evident that the center’s longevity is rooted in interdisciplinary scholarship and fostering the next generation of scholars.

In 1989, Ralph and Goldy Lewis donated $5 million to endow a research program at UCLA that studied regional policy issues. The following year, the Lewis Center opened its doors in Perloff Hall, the location of what was then known as the School of Architecture and Urban Planning, with founding director Allen J. Scott, distinguished research professor of geography and public policy. Scott was succeeded by Roger Waldinger, distinguished professor of sociology; followed in chronological order by Paul Ong, research professor at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs; J.R. DeShazo, professor of public policy, urban planning and civil and environmental engineering; and Brian D. Taylor, professor of urban planning and public policy.

“My parents both went to UCLA and they believed in the power of public education and need to support the public system,” said Randall Lewis, whose parents were homebuilders and interested in issues of growth, transportation, housing and air quality. “They felt as they were building houses, building communities, that they didn’t want to create problems. They wanted to find solutions.”

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, who joined the UCLA community the same year that Lewis Center was established and received one of its first grants, kicked off the event.

“The Lewis Center best exemplifies the role that we’re asking our research centers to play: push research forward, support the educational mission of the school and its students, and serve as a public forum that disseminates important research-based information and data to a larger public,” said Loukaitou-Sideris, professor of urban planning and associate provost for academic planning.

Launched Amid Regional Turmoil
The early 1990s were a tumultuous time in Los Angeles. The aerospace industry, which was a backbone of the region’s economy, was collapsing. The 1994 Northridge earthquake killed 61 people and caused $6.7 million in damage, crippling major infrastructure like freeways. And civil disturbances fueled by racial injustices, police brutality, and poverty and social marginalization rocked the city.

“Los Angeles looked like, from some points of view, a basket case and getting worse,” Scott recalled. “And so we were, at a very early stage, involved in attempting to build responses to these problems and others.”

Scott and the Lewis Center published a series of working papers focusing on new industry (such as electric vehicles) to replace aerospace and an examination of the nature and causes of the crises in South Los Angeles.

By the time Waldinger took over in 1996, the immigrant population in the Los Angeles region had quadrupled within two decades. Yet, research on the impact of immigration on the Los Angeles region lagged behind frequently studied cities like Chicago and New York. The Lewis Center played an integral role in bringing Los Angeles to the forefront of regional studies with efforts such as Waldinger’s book “Ethnic Los Angeles.” Today, it’s hard to imagine a discussion of immigration and foreign-born individuals without considering L.A.

Waldinger said the center’s early research has transformed California policy. Although immigration policy is a federal issue, immigrant policy can be local, he noted, pointing to state measures that have aided California’s immigrant population.

Ong, the center’s third director, continued the multidisciplinary tradition of the Lewis Center and collaborated with scholars in UCLA Luskin Social Welfare and the natural sciences. As director, he published a seminal report on the undercounting of low-income people and communities of color in the 2000 Census.

Ong’s work also highlighted a core strength of the Lewis Center — its focus on addressing social justice issues for marginalized communities. He said the center also partnered with the County of Los Angeles and L.A. Metro to understand the transit needs of underserved communities.

DeShazo oversaw the Lewis Center during a time when its focus turned to environmental issues. In 2006, California passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), promoting ambitious climate solutions that even some legislators doubted could be achieved.

“Those were the days we didn’t even know where greenhouse gases were coming from,” DeShazo remembered. The first step was to identify sources and then to identify solutions to reduce emissions, including electric vehicles, rooftop solar energy and energy-efficient technology.

“Everything that we have today is what people thought was impossible to accomplish. The groundwork for that was laid in the 2006-2012 period,” DeShazo said.

The Lewis Center has also contributed to environmental justice scholarship, especially the designations of disadvantaged communities as a result of identifying where emissions were coming from and where populations vulnerable to those emissions are living.

Taylor next put the focus on housing affordability and transportation in light of large investments in public transit like Measure R, a sales tax that is expected to raise $40 billion over 30 years.

He said the center’s regional lens has a built-in advantage when it comes to studying housing affordability, transportation and access, which play out across a diverse geography.

Taylor’s tenure also overlapped with his role as chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning. It was a position that helped him to advocate for the addition of faculty members and scholars who could tackle these regional priorities.

“Housing affordability was not my area of research,” Taylor said. “All I did was try to support and catalyze the intellectual leaders that are helping shape the important debates on this.”

A Legacy of Leadership
Acting as a consistent bridge to marginalized voices, the Lewis Center’s former directors see scholarship and professional development as their enduring legacy. Many onetime students have gone on to become academic leaders in their own right.

“I’m honored to follow in those footsteps,” said Blumenberg MA UP ’90, Ph.D. ’95. She became director in 2018 and has focused on how Angelenos live, move and work in L.A., with a particular interest in pathways out of poverty. The center recently launched the Randall Lewis Housing Initiative.

Has Los Angeles made progress over the last 30 years?

The answer is mixed, Ong said. A commitment to climate change initiatives and equity are highlights, but income inequality and social justice remain daunting issues.

“I’m proud of the fact that the Lewis Center continues to look at issues of inequality,” Ong said. “We’re dedicated to doing the research to find solutions, but it’s like swimming upstream.”

Still, Ong remains hopeful: “I know enough about [Blumenberg’s] history that there will continue to be a commitment from the Lewis Center to accomplish things that will bend us towards justice.”

Abrams Wins Prize for Book on Incarcerated Youth Award is one of several Social Welfare accomplishments highlighted at annual conference

Social Welfare Chair Laura Abrams’ book on the complex lives of youth who transition out of Los Angeles’ juvenile justice system and into adulthood has received the 2020 Society for Social Work and Research Book Award.

Everyday Desistance: The Transition to Adulthood Among Formerly Incarcerated Youth” was recognized for its outstanding contributions to the advancement of knowledge and resolution of social problems.

Abrams and her co-author, triple Bruin Diane Terry BA ’02 MSW ’04 PhD ’12, received the prestigious award Jan. 18 during the annual conference of the Society for Social Work and Research in Washington, D.C.

This year’s conference highlighted several achievements by UCLA Luskin Social Welfare:

  • MSW students and faculty conducted a roundtable on their experiences providing legal assistance to migrants detained at the U.S.-Mexico border. After a week interviewing women and children held at a detention center in Dilley, Texas, the team created a set of tools for other advocates who are trying to help migrants who have faced trauma.
  • Abrams was formally inducted into the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare, a national honor society recognizing excellence in the field. Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor, a member of the academy since 2017, delivered the induction address.
  • Maggie Thomas, who will join the Social Welfare faculty as an assistant professor in the fall, received the 2020 Doctoral Fellows Award for her dissertation, “Material Hardship, Public Assistance and Child Wellbeing: A Panel Data Study.”
  • Research by eight faculty, 12 Ph.D. students and four MSW students or recent graduates was presented during the five-day conference’s symposia, workshops, roundtables, and paper and poster presentations.

 

‘Trailblazers’ Take the Lead as New Major Takes Flight The diverse members of UCLA Luskin’s undergraduate Class of 2021 immediately connect with the program’s mission to inspire and equip the next generation of leaders

By Mary Braswell

Tessa Azani remembers the look on her mom’s face when they came across the new major outlined on the very last page of UCLA’s transfer admission guide.

“Developing leaders engaged in social change,” began the text describing the bachelor of arts in public affairs.

“I start reading the description to my mom and I swear I saw her jaw fall on the floor. And she says, ‘They literally made this major for you. They knew you were coming,’ ” Azani recalled.

The transfer student from Moorpark College, who had been struggling to find a course of study that fit her goals, is now one of the “Trailblazers” — UCLA Luskin’s undergrad Class of 2021, the first group of students formally admitted to the new major.

Azani joins 69 other other students who launched into upper-division public affairs coursework in the fall. It’s a diverse group: Three-quarters are women, 67 percent identify as nonwhite, 13 are transfer students, and more than 20 percent come from outside California, traveling to UCLA from every region of the nation and from countries including Mexico, India, Great Britain and Austria.

In just its second year, the UCLA Luskin undergraduate program has grown to a total of more than 270 students, including 200 lower-division “pre-majors.” The Trailblazers are the program’s pioneers. They’ll be the first to experience one of the major’s signature elements: a three-quarter internship and seminar series in the senior year that will immerse students in their community. Their feedback will be crucial in shaping the program.

“I am in awe of our Trailblazers,” said Alexis Oberlander, director of student affairs for the program. “These students had other plans for their time at UCLA, they had other majors, but once they learned about our program they immediately connected to our mission and shifted gears without hesitating.”

That was true of the very first student to join the program. Long Hoang was a freshman in the spring of 2018 when he read about the major in the Daily Bruin. He sought out Oberlander, asked many questions, then eagerly registered as a pre-major.

As more joined the ranks, they forged a tight bond as they moved, almost en masse, from class to class, all trying to complete prerequisites in just one year.

“I really feel like we’ve connected as a class,” Hoang said. “It’s funny because moving from high school to a school with 30,000 people, I did not expect to have such a close-knit community.”

The public affairs major resides in a School known for its top-ranked graduate programs, and Hoang found an important mentor in a student pursuing a master’s in urban planning. As a teaching assistant, Michelle Einstein shared her passion for data science and digital mapping, and Hoang got hooked. He’s now pursuing a minor in Geographic Information Systems and Technology with an eye toward bridging his interests in data analysis, environmental health and community outreach. And he remains in touch with Einstein, who graduated last June.

Nate Singer’s journey to a public affairs education began when he moved from Sacramento to Los Angeles as he began high school. To get around town, he started taking the Metro public transit system, and the more he rode, the more he became fascinated with the way the region was stitched together.

“I realized how integral transportation is to the social structure of a city, the economic structure of a city,” he said. “The beauty of being interested in something like cities is they’re so dynamic and they’re so interconnected that you can kind of have your foot in many, many places at the same time.”

As a transfer student from Los Angeles City College, Singer knew two things: He wanted to study urban planning and he wanted to stay in Southern California. Google led him to the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs site, and he realized the undergrad program was a great fit. He became an early ambassador for the program by sharing what he learned with his LACC counselors.

Singer once owned a motorcycle but now travels by bicycle and bus. “I figured I can’t say car-based infrastructure is destroying our cities while also utilizing it on a daily basis,” he said.

While all the Trailblazers must show great discipline to meet their major requirements, Rimsha Saeed has a unique challenge: She aims to complete her degree in three years.

“The counseling team has been amazing, so accommodating and always trying to make sure that I’m on track,” said Saeed, who is interested in human rights law and policy.

She had looked at UCLA’s majors in political science and international development studies but gravitated toward the hands-on learning in the public affairs curriculum.

“I want to do something that makes real change in the world, and that was exactly what the public affairs major was offering,” she said. “It literally gives us the tools to make actual lasting change.”

Saeed says she is grateful for the “extras” the staff offers, such as bringing in dynamic speakers and sharing off-campus opportunities. “They’re always trying to help us get connections out in the world, and that’s really helpful for someone who’s trying to figure out what they want to do,” she said.

She has only praise for Associate Professor Meredith Phillips, the department’s chair who also teaches a course on using data to understand society.

“Professor Meredith, she’s probably really busy, but she would literally sit with me and explain everything as many times as I needed it. That really left an impression on me,” said Saeed, who had no previous statistics experience but is now motivated to pursue upper-division coursework. “I found it really interesting how you can combine two fields that seem so different, like social science and coding, and make it into something that’s used out there in the real world.”

For Tessa Azani, “everything fell into place” after she discovered the public affairs major. She had been seeking an education that paired policymaking and social welfare but wanted to veer away from politics, with all its “arguing and debating and winning and losing.”

“My brother and I both talked about how we loved the idea of being able to create change using government and politics — but we hate actual politics,” she said.

Her dream, she said, is to launch a nonprofit that encourages sports teams — and their fervent fan bases — to sponsor local schools. “Since almost every kid in America, K through 12, has to go to school, why don’t we make school the best place in the entire world?”Azani said.

The Trailblazers, Oberlander said, “are passionate about their life goals, all of which involve making our world a more equitable and just place, and they are willing to take the chance and put in the hard work to achieve those goals.

“I can’t wait to see them in their experiential learning capstones and beyond as they become the future leaders of our world.”

View more pictures of the Trailblazers on Flickr.

UCLA Luskin's Undergrad Trailblazers

This Election Year, We Have 2020 Vision The race for U.S. president comes to town, and the UCLA Luskin community is there to make sure candidates take a stand on issues of importance

By Stan Paul

Students at UCLA Luskin always have many opportunities to seek out public policy discourse and engage in political activities. But during the 2020 presidential election campaign, some of the opportunities for political engagement have been coming directly to them.

In December, the top Democratic contenders for the U.S. presidency were in Los Angeles for a closely watched debate that set the stage for the caucus and primary season soon to follow. And just a few weeks beforehand, students like first-year Master of Public Policy student Tamera Hyatte participated as questioners of presidential candidates during a live telecast of a town hall-style forum that focused on LGBTQ issues.

“Get ready, you’re going on!” was Hyatte’s cue. Moments later, she was asking Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke face to face — and on split screen for viewers — what protections he, as president, would put in place to safeguard transgender women of color. In her question, Hyatt noted that transsexual women of color are killed at an alarming rate.

“I thought he answered it fairly well,” Hyatte said of the former Texas congressman’s response. “I think a lot of the candidates being asked specific questions were caught off-guard, because I don’t think these are issues they generally look into,” added the former middle-school teacher. She said her interests include educational issues affecting LGBTQ students in K-12 as well as education in communities of color.

Hyatte was among a sizable contingent of UCLA Luskin graduate and undergraduate students, faculty and staff who attended the Oct. 10 Democratic presidential forum in downtown Los Angeles that was hosted by CNN and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. And she was among a handful selected to ask a question of a Democratic candidate at the forum, which included candidates Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, O’Rourke, Tom Steyer and Elizabeth Warren.

Ayse Seker, a second-year UCLA undergraduate student and public affairs pre-major at UCLA Luskin, was selected to question Booker, a U.S. senator from New Jersey, on the sometimes-conflicting juxtaposition of religious freedom and LGBTQ rights. Seker, who is also from New Jersey, said her question was based on her own experience attending a religious-based high school.

“I wish he could have gotten more specific on the issues of Catholic schools and the rights their students have; sometimes our very identities are at conflict with an institution’s canonical ideas,” Seker said. “But I do appreciate the messaging of his response, as it is important for there to be representation of someone who is both outspokenly religious and a champion for LGBTQ rights.”

In fall quarter, Seker was enrolled in Public Affairs 80, a prerequisite for the public affairs major that explores how the policy environment shapes human development. Her professor, Ian Holloway of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, joined her at the event and provided useful commentary between candidates. She also appreciated his tips on public speaking prior to her on-camera moment.

Holloway said he was proud to see UCLA Luskin students asking tough questions of the candidates. “It was helpful for our students to think critically about how policies being debated, such as the trans military ban or pharmaceutical pricing, impact the lives of LGBTQ Americans.”

Kevin Medina MPP / MSW ’15 is now the capstone advisor and coordinator for UCLA Luskin’s undergraduate major. Like Hyatte and Seker, he had applied in early September to attend the event and ask a question, and he was notified that his question had been chosen just a couple of days before the forum. He asked California candidate Tom Steyer about his plan to combat “the erasure of LGBTQ Americans’ identities on the 2020 Census.”

“I hope asking this question on a national platform elevates the importance of this issue and puts it on the radar of those with the power to positively effect change,” Medina said after the event. He said the Census Bureau plans to collect data on same-sex partners. “However, this question does not gain information about transgender people or LGBTQ people who are single or not living with a same-gender partner.”

Hyatte, who studied journalism as an undergrad, was appreciative of the opportunity to become directly engaged in the electoral process. When she chose UCLA for graduate school, “I didn’t even know we would be able to participate in something like this.”

Reflecting on the experience afterward, Hyatte said, “I think a lot of the candidates may want to brush up more on informing themselves about the issues that are happening in the LGBTQ community.” At the same time, the forum — which was held the day before the 31st annual National Coming Out Day — was also instructive for her.

“Just for myself, sitting in the audience, there were questions brought up that I didn’t even think about asking, and it makes me think, ‘Wow, I want to look more into that and really see what’s going on,’” she said. “It makes me think about how I can also include LGBTQ issues into my research on education policy because I think that’s also relevant.”

Relevance was key for Seker as well. “Within public affairs classes, we’re constantly learning about the vast array of issues that plague our society and the institutions and their history that perpetuate them.” The town hall demonstrated how diverse and multifaceted the LGBTQ community is, she said, and it highlighted a number of LGBTQ-related issues and concerns “that find their roots in a myriad of intersecting oppressive systems.”

Being within the Luskin School means a nearly constant stream of interesting opportunities for political engagement, Seker said a few days after the forum. “The fact that this was only during Week 2 of fall quarter makes me eager and excited for all the future opportunities and events the Luskin School will offer me throughout the rest of this school year.”

And Seker is right — UCLA Luskin will host a full calendar of public events and politics-related opportunities for students and alumni through Election Day 2020.

School Safety Expert Is Among 4 New Faculty Additions

By Stan Paul

Three new faculty members in social welfare and one in urban planning joined UCLA Luskin as of the fall quarter.

They bring to 19 the total number of new faculty added during the tenure of Dean Gary Segura to UCLA Luskin’s three professional programs and its undergraduate major.

Joining social welfare: Professor Ron Avi Astor, an expert on bullying and school violence; Assistant Professor Cindy Sangalang, who examines how race, migration and culture intersect to shape health and well-being in immigrant and refugee communities; and Assistant Professor Lee Ann Wang, whose current work looks at the intersection of immigration law and criminalization through gender and sexual violence.

New to urban planning is Assistant Professor Veronica Herrera, who studies the politics of development in Global South cities, with a focus on Latin America. Her research emphasizes environmental policymaking, sustainability and water policy.

Astor holds a joint appointment as professor in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and Sangalang and Wang have joint appointments as assistant professors in Asian American Studies.

Astor holds the Marjorie Crump Chair in Social Welfare. His work examines the role of the physical, social-organizational and cultural contexts in schools related to different kinds of bullying and school violence. Examples include sexual harassment, cyber bullying, discrimination, hate acts, school fights, emotional abuse, weapon use and teacher/child violence. His most recent co-authored book on the subject, “Bullying, School Violence, and Climate in Evolving Contexts: Culture, Organization, and Time,” was published last January.

“Bullying is such a big term that it gives us a lot of room,” said Astor, whose first studies related to bullying and school violence tied to vulnerable groups such as homeless and foster children. “So being in these literatures you realize that some of the research has been more generic, so it does matter if it’s LGBTQ or if it’s military kids, or homeless or foster kids … because the dynamics are a little bit different.”

His research is cross-cultural and makes comparisons between the United States and other places, including such countries as Israel, China, Cameroon and Kosovo.

“Professor Astor is one of the foremost experts in the world on how to cultivate safe and nurturing schools for children around the globe,” said Professor Laura Abrams, chair of social welfare. “This research is critical to social work as schools play a major role in shaping key child outcomes.”

Astor is a Southern California native who came to UCLA after a long research and teaching appointment at the University of Michigan and, more recently, at USC.