Steve Kerr Has More on His Mind Than Winning The NBA head coach speaks with UCLA Luskin about life, justice and important lessons Americans still need to learn

By Les Dunseith

One of NBA coach Steve Kerr’s oldest memories occurred in the early 1970s when he attended his first NCAA basketball game at Pauley Pavilion with his father, then a UCLA professor. It was the heyday of UCLA men’s basketball, when the Bruins rolled through season after unbeaten season on the way to 10 championships in 12 years. The opponent was highly ranked Maryland.

“I was 6 or 7 years old, and UCLA wins the game by one point. The place is electric. Every seat is sold, and it’s an incredible game,” Kerr remembered, telling the story Oct. 7 during a webinar hosted by UCLA Luskin.  “There’s all these All-American players on the court, and I’m thinking, you know, that was amazing!”

As he exited the arena with his father, Malcolm Kerr, they overheard Bruin fans complaining about UCLA’s performance. “What’s wrong with the team?” the fans said. “We only won by one point.”

Young Steve stopped suddenly. “‘But dad, we won?’ And my dad had to say, ‘Well, son, I’m going to have to teach you about context.’”

When a team wins championships, “fans are not just interested in winning, they’re interested in how they win and how dominant they look,” Kerr told an online audience of about 200 students, alumni, faculty, staff and other invited guests while helping the Luskin School celebrate a new academic year. Dean Gary Segura moderated the talk, which touched on Kerr’s role as a player, coach and outspoken advocate for social justice.

Understanding expectations has meaning for Kerr in his role as head coach of the Golden State Warriors, a team that went to the NBA finals five years in a row, winning three championships, before finishing the most recent season with the worst record in the league amid injuries and player departures.

Moving forward, Kerr can draw inspiration from his interactions with a who’s who of coaching role models from college and professional basketball, starting with John Wooden. During his father’s 20 years as a political science professor at UCLA, Steve got to know Wooden, and even served as a ball boy for the Bruins when he was 13 and 14 years old.

“I have [Wooden’s] photo hanging on the wall at my office in San Francisco,” Kerr said during the audience Q&A portion of the webinar. “He is one of the people I really admire and look up to as much as anybody — not only in the basketball world, but just in terms of people who have impacted me and the way I try to coach.”

Kerr’s Bruin connections run deep. So why didn’t he play for UCLA?

“I would have if they had wanted me,” Kerr said, laughing. “I’ll just say I was a late bloomer” — a statement borne out during his days as an NBA player when he earned five championship rings and set a still-unmatched record for career 3-point shooting success.

Kerr ended up playing college ball at the University of Arizona, where he learned from another great coach, Lute Olson.

“Coach Olson really kind of set the stage for my entire career,” Kerr said. “You’re so impressionable at that age, and to learn from one of the great coaches and to feel that presence — in that structure and with that wisdom — every day was incredible.”

This was in the 1980s, a couple of years after Malcolm Kerr had left UCLA to become the president of American University in Beirut. Then, during Steve’s freshman year at Arizona in 1984, Malcolm Kerr was killed on the Beirut campus by two gunmen. “He was one of the early victims of Middle East terrorism,” Kerr said. “And, obviously, it was a devastating time for our family.”

Steve Kerr is active today in efforts to prevent gun violence and provide guidance to troubled youth. But he doesn’t see the tragedy as the defining moment in shaping his worldview and that of his siblings.

“It was the way we were raised,” Kerr said, reflecting on his upbringing on and around the UCLA campus. “My mom and dad always exposed us to a lot of people from all over the world.”

His mother, Ann Kerr, has worked at UCLA since 1991 and still coordinates the Visiting Fulbright Scholar Enrichment Program for the International Institute. His siblings include John, who teaches at Michigan State University; Susan, an author and an elected county councillor in Great Britain; and Andrew, a businessman working in Washington, D.C.

Steve Kerr played pro basketball, then became a sportscaster and later a coach.

“I was definitely kind of the black sheep of the family. My siblings have all pretty much gone on to various educational endeavors. My mom likes to say that she has two Ph.D.s, an M.B.A. and an NBA,” Kerr joked.

Then again, Kerr’s job involves helping a group of people to learn and work together to achieve a goal. “Coaching is just teaching,” Kerr said. “It dawned on me after a while that I actually wasn’t as big of a black sheep as I thought I was.”

Few athletes have careers as varied or successful as Kerr, an eight-time NBA champion — five as a player on the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs, and three as coach of the Warriors.

In Chicago, he played for another legendary coach, one known for then-unusual tactics like meditating before games. “Phil Jackson taught me that you can be totally unique — and even weird — and be an incredible basketball coach.”

In San Antonio, he played for Gregg Popovich, who remains a close friend and mentor and is “just an incredible human being.”

“He’s the one who taught me … not to be afraid to speak out,” said Kerr in reference to his own reputation as an outspoken advocate for progressive political viewpoints.

During the webinar, Kerr answered questions about basketball:

  • Could he beat Steph Curry in a game of H-O-R-S-E? “In theory, yes, but probably not.”

And he answered questions about his life:

  • Would he ever consider a run for public office? “No. I’m a basketball coach and that’s what I love to do.”

But Kerr and the dean spent a good portion of their hour together talking about societal issues, the sorts of things that are on the minds of the faculty, students and alumni of a school that educates future social workers, urban planners and policy experts.

So, what’s getting him hot under the collar lately?

“Well, voter suppression is probably the thing that makes me the angriest right now,” Kerr responded. “We have this country that we all want to believe in. And we want to believe in the words that were written in the Constitution, and the words that were uttered by our founding fathers.”

But, to Kerr, people need to recognize the “parallel universe” that was often hidden beneath the surface of the American ideal.

“This parallel universe has existed from Day 1 in this country — where slavery existed and Black people were considered to be three-fifths of a human being in the Constitution,” Kerr told Segura. “What this social movement is about right now is trying to reconcile these parallel universes. How can we be so proud of our country and so thankful, and yet at the same time really be staring at some of the things that are still going on like … voter suppression? It’s really disheartening.”

The 2019-20 NBA season was suspended for months because of COVID-19, then restarted amid protests about anti-Black violence by police. When play resumed, coaches and players let their views be known, such as wearing slogans in support of racial justice on their uniforms.

“I’m very proud that the NBA has taken a leadership role with this issue,” Kerr said.

During a 15-year playing career that spanned all of the 1990s, Kerr was on teams with some of the most famous basketball players of all time. Circumstances, he noted, have changed.

“Social media didn’t exist. And so somebody like Michael Jordan, for example, rarely spoke out about politics or social issues. But at the same time, he wasn’t really asked, and that’s the biggest difference,” Kerr noted.

Kerr singled out Andre Iguodala, a former Warrior who is now with the Miami Heat, as a current player whose activism has been influential for him.

“I had one of the most meaningful conversations I’ve ever had on race with Andre,” Kerr said, recalling a chat at the team’s practice facility about how white America can be oblivious about reconciling with the nation’s past.

“Andre, he just said, very matter of factly, ‘Coach, have you ever heard about Black Wall Street?’”

Kerr had not, so he went online to learn the horrific story of the 1921 massacre of Black residents by a white mob in the Tulsa, Oklahoma, suburb of Greenwood, known as the Black Wall Street because of the relative wealth of many of its residents.

The tragic nature of the story isn’t the only reason this incident is significant to Kerr, who “has read a lot of books about history and thoroughly enjoyed American history classes in high school and college, and was a history minor in college. Not one person ever taught me about the Tulsa race riots.”

For Kerr, the son of educators and the recipient of wisdom from legendary coaches known not just for winning games but for shaping young lives, the path ahead is clear.

The tragedy of Black Wall Street “should be an entire chapter in every high school student’s textbook,” Kerr said. “We have to face what we’ve done, and the evils and the awfulness that has existed.”

Watch the webinar.

4 Faculty Additions Join UCLA Luskin Social Welfare and Urban Planning Incoming academic experts focus on environmental, racial and health disparities in real and virtual environments — from social media to soil

By Stan Paul

Faculty hires in UCLA Luskin Social Welfare and Urban Planning for the new academic year bring a wealth of new research and teaching, reinforcing the School’s commitment to the health and well-being of individuals and communities.

Assistant Professor Brian Keum has joined Social Welfare. His general research emphasizes the reduction of health and mental health disparities among marginalized identities and communities. In particular, Keum studies the impact of online racism – and online racial violence – on psychosocial outcomes and health disparities. Drawing on his clinical experience, he looks at mental health issues, offline attitudinal and behavioral changes, and risky health behaviors that include substance abuse. A second area of his research is Asian American mental health, as well as multicultural and social justice issues that relate to how mental health counseling is provided.

“As a scientist-practitioner, I am excited to teach both practice and research courses,” said Keum, who will be offering graduate instruction in advanced social work practice and applied statistics in social work.

Judith Perrigo, an infant and early childhood mental health specialist, is also an assistant professor of social welfare. Amid the unusual circumstances of this academic year, Perrigo looks forward to exploring innovative teaching methods while providing meaningful learning experiences in both foundational and advanced social welfare practice courses. This includes sharing some of her recent research on how parents of low socioeconomic status with children in grades 3 to 6 are coping with the unexpected educational demands during the pandemic.

“Our findings suggest that the closure of schools and stay-at-home orders initiated by the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated pre-existing parental involvement challenges,“ Perrigo explained, noting that families of lower socioeconomic status were more negatively impacted because they “had fewer affordances to buffer the new stressors.”

Perrigo draws from her personal background as a Salvadoran immigrant and 15 years of applied clinical work with children and families to inform her scholarship. Specifically, her research focuses on the well-being of young children — birth to 5 years old — with emphasis on holistic and transdisciplinary prevention and early intervention initiatives with underserved, vulnerable and marginalized populations.

José Loya joins Urban Planning as an assistant professor after recently completing his Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. At UCLA Luskin he will teach quantitative analysis in urban planning and a seminar on Latino urban issues in the spring.

“My research focuses on ethno-racial disparities in the mortgage market, before, during and after the Great Recession. More generally, I am interested in the barriers minorities face in the homeownership market,” said Loya, who is also a faculty associate at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center.

“I am excited to join UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs and working and engaging our students in the community,” added Loya, who worked for several years in positions related to community development and affordable housing in South Florida. He then earned a master’s in statistics from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. “I’ve already moved to Los Angeles, so I’ll be here locally even if courses are online,” Loya said.

Kirsten Schwarz, who holds a joint appointment as an associate professor of urban planning and environmental health sciences, started at UCLA by co-teaching policy analysis for environmental health science in the spring 2020 quarter.

“Virtually teaching my first class during a global pandemic and social uprising was not how I expected to kick off my career at UCLA,” Schwarz said. “But I was so impressed, and encouraged by, the flexibility, compassion and integrity that the students brought to the experience. It was certainly memorable.”

Schwarz is an urban ecologist working at the interface of environment, equity and health. Her research focuses on environmental hazards and amenities in cities and how their distribution impacts minoritized communities. She recently led an interdisciplinary team through a community-engaged green infrastructure design that integrated participatory design and place-based solutions to achieve desired ecosystem services.

“I’m interested in connecting those areas right between urban planning and environmental health sciences,” said Schwarz, whose work on lead-contaminated soils has helped document how bio-geophysical and social variables relate to the spatial patterning of lead in soils.

Most recently she received a transdisciplinary research acceleration grant from UCLA’s Office of Research and Creative Activities in conjunction with Jennifer Jay, a professor in UCLA’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Their proposal, “Multimedia Assessment of Children’s Lead Exposure in Los Angeles,” will involve work with graduate students in Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Schwarz also has expertise in science communication and in engaging communities in the co-production of science. She has been recognized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which named her a 2018-2019 Fellow in the Leshner Leadership Institute in the Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology. Prior to

joining UCLA, she was an associate professor of environmental science at Northern Kentucky University, where she directed the Ecological Stewardship Institute.

Several other faculty searches have been completed, with four additional faculty members set to join Social Welfare and Urban Planning in the coming year. Those new additions include Adam Millard-Ball, who will arrive in January as an associate professor of urban planning, coming from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Millard-Ball holds a doctorate from Stanford University’s School of Earth Sciences and was selected in the urban data science search. He studies environmental economics and transportation, “adding to our strengths in those fields,” said Dean Gary Segura in a memo announcing his appointment.

Mark Vestal, also starting in January, was selected as an assistant professor by UCLA Luskin Urban Planning in a search on critical Black urbanism, Segura announced. A historian by training, Vestal’s work looks at the history of discriminatory planning and housing policy in Los Angeles and beyond.

Fall 2021 newcomers will include Margaret “Maggie” Thomas in Social Welfare and Veronica Terriquez in Urban Planning.

Thomas is a scholar of family and child well-being and is completing her Ph.D. in social work at Boston University this year. She previously earned an MSW degree from the University of Illinois. Her work focuses on young children in families facing serious economic hardship, as well as children and youth from minority communities and with LGBTQ identities.

Terriquez has been jointly appointed to Urban Planning and UCLA’s Department of Chicano Studies where she will take on the leadership of the Chicano Studies Research Center at UCLA. Terriquez, who earned a Ph.D. in sociology at UCLA, returns to the Westwood campus from UC Santa Cruz. Her work is principally focused on youth and young adult social development, leadership and intergroup relations, and how they are affected by various public policies.

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. Angelus Funeral Home in Los Angeles made arrangements amid the ongoing pandemic for an Oct. 6 viewing, where friends and family paid their respects.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that any gifts in VC’s honor be made to the VC Powe Memorial Fund, which will support UCLA Luskin-wide fellowships, Career Services and the Senior Fellows program. Gifts can also be made by check payable to the UCLA Foundation. Please include “Fund #14300” in the memo field and mail to the UCLA Foundation, PO Box 7145, Pasadena, CA 91109-9903.

Anyone wishing to send cards and other non-perishable items in her memory 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. 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. The Los Angeles City Council will also adjourn in her honor that day.

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.

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

By Mary Braswell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.