Distinguished Professor of Public Policy Jody Heymann co-authored an opinion piece in the Hill arguing that creation of a “preventive health workforce” is key to reopening the economy and protecting the nation’s health and security. Heymann and co-author Aleta Sprague called for investing in a “national cohort of health workers who can roll out each element of the national COVID-19 strategy” and would continue to reduce preventable deaths from other causes once the pandemic is contained. They argued that strengthening the public health infrastructure “would not only create hundreds of thousands of jobs at a time of unprecedented layoffs, it would vastly expand our capacity to contain this pandemic and prepare for the next.” They also recommended accelerating and simplifying loan forgiveness to incentivize more people with backgrounds in public health, law, social work, urban studies or health sciences to commit to preventive-health-related jobs as careers.
A new report from the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin and the public interest consulting firm Ong & Associates examines the disproportionately high burden of shelter-in-place orders on low-income and minority neighborhoods in Los Angeles County. The report illustrates race and class inequalities at the neighborhood level as communities follow mandates for social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19. According to the report, the communities most burdened by these mandates are “those with the greatest exposure to possible virus carriers, the highest stress levels associated with struggling to remain physically fit, and the most challenges to fulfilling essential daily or weekly needs.” To measure this vulnerability, researchers developed a “shelter-in-place burden index” that analyzed factors such as population density and access to public parks and supermarkets. According to the report, the analysis shows that “over-burdened neighborhoods tend to be low-income with a disproportionately large number of people of color and to suffer from a digital and transportation divide.” The report’s authors called on governments, foundations and community organizations to assist neighborhoods with the greatest need and develop equitable programs for social and economic recovery. “This is not the time to yield to the relatively few clamoring for an opening of the U.S. economy, without regard for the spread of the coronavirus. It is the time that we recognize and close the socioeconomic gap through actions that ensure fairness and justice,” II&D Director Ananya Roy noted.
By Les Dunseith
Residents felt slightly better than last year about life in Los Angeles County, according to UCLA’s fifth annual Quality of Life Index, which was conducted just as the coronavirus crisis descended on the region last month. Ratings increased in all categories, with the exception of the two most directly affected by the pandemic — health, and jobs and the economy.
The overall quality-of-life rating rose from 56 to 58 (on a scale of 10 to 100) in the survey, released April 23 by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. Responses varied dramatically by age and household income, however. The survey took place between March 18 and 26, which coincided with the implementation of strict social distancing measures in the county and state.
“The slight increase in county residents’ satisfaction may be more of a reflection of the past year’s quality of life than of the new reality with which we have all been living for the last six weeks,” said Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin. “Since then, we have been in uncharted territory, which we will be able to better measure in the months ahead.”
The onset of the COVID-19 crisis may have contributed to a sharp increase in how important health was to respondents when compared with the other survey categories. Sixty-five percent said health was of high importance in rating their quality of life, an 8% increase over the 2019 survey. This was second in importance only to the cost-of-living category, which has been the most salient category of the Quality of Life Index, or QLI, since its inception in 2016.
A telling takeaway from this year’s survey is a growing generational and economic divide among county residents. Respondents were asked whether Los Angeles is a place where people who work hard can get ahead. While 41% answered yes, a majority of 55% said no. That pessimistic outlook was held by 64% of those between the ages of 18 and 39 and 62% of those living in households with annual incomes of less than $60,000.
Housing and the fear of homelessness also remain priority issues for county residents. When asked whether they are worried about losing their home and becoming homeless as a result, 31% of respondents answered yes, an increase of 9% over last year. Thirty-nine percent of those between the ages of 18 and 39 and 48% of those with household incomes of less than $60,000 said they were worried.
“The notion that nearly 2 out of 3 younger and lower-income earners increasingly believe they are at an economic dead-end is a most distressing finding in our survey,” Yaroslavsky said. “When nearly 4 out of 10 young and economically stressed Angelenos go to bed each night worrying about becoming homeless, we are all diminished. This is a troubling trend that continues to plague our society.”
The QLI is a joint project of the UCLA Luskin Los Angeles Initiative and The California Endowment. Researchers ask a cross-section of Los Angeles County residents to rate their quality of life in nine categories and 40 subcategories. Full results are being released April 23 as part of UCLA’s Luskin Summit, which is being held virtually this year because of the ongoing health crisis. The host of that session is Adrienne Alpert of ABC7 in Los Angeles, where she is a reporter and host of a public affairs program, “Eyewitness Newsmakers.”
As in previous years, the 2020 QLI’s categories fell into three distinct tiers in terms of respondents’ level of satisfaction: a bottom tier including cost of living (45), education (50) and transportation and traffic (53); a middle tier including the environment (58), jobs and the economy (59), and public safety (64); and a top tier including health care (69), race relations (71) and neighborhood quality (71).
Overall satisfaction with quality of life rose across all age groups in the 2020 survey. Those aged 40 to 49 matched the index’s average score of 58, but those aged 39 and younger gave a rating of 54. Those older than 50 gave a 61 rating, a significant increase over last year. Older respondents are generally more satisfied with their financial security in retirement, while younger residents are less secure and more concerned.
Other key findings
- The results of questions directly related to the coronavirus were released publicly on April 8. County residents expressed high concern over the virus’s impact on their health (79%) and economic situation (82%). In addition, 61% gave local public health officials high marks for their response to the pandemic, compared with 39% for federal officials.
- Almost two-thirds of people surveyed (63%) favor building housing in their neighborhoods to help transition people out of homelessness, as long as the housing includes access to medical and social services and has on-site security.
- Sixty-two percent of those surveyed had a favorable opinion of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. A majority of respondents (53%) had a favorable opinion of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, but less than one-third (31%) had a favorable view of Sheriff Alex Villanueva, while 34% said they had no opinion and 13% had never heard of Villanueva.
- Roughly 4 in 5 respondents (79%) expressed satisfaction with race relations in the county, and this strongly positive opinion was reflected across all demographic groups in the survey: Latinos (80%), whites (81%), Asians (77%) and African Americans (77%).
“One year from now, we will be living in a different world,” Yaroslavsky said. “In the past, Los Angeles has faced and overcome great challenges, but we are now in the midst of a crisis we could have never imagined. Next year, we will certainly know more about the extent of our region’s resilience.”
The 2020 UCLA Luskin Quality of Life Index is based on interviews with a random sample of 1,503 county residents conducted in both English and Spanish, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5%. The QLI was prepared in partnership with the public opinion research firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates.
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.
Associate Professor of Public Policy Sarah Reber was featured in a Los Angeles Times report about the controversy over a faculty recommendation to keep the SAT and ACT tests as admission requirements for the University of California system. In a letter to the Board of Regents, Reber and two other education and economics experts, Michal Kurlaender of UC Davis and Jesse Rothstein of UC Berkeley, criticized the recommendation, which was made by faculty representing all 10 UC campuses. Reber and her co-authors instead recommended the use of a state assessment called Smarter Balanced, which research shows is as predictive of college performance as the SAT with less bias against disadvantaged students. Reber called for all campuses to admit more students who graduate with high GPAs but low test scores, then to hold them accountable for their academic success once enrolled. UC Regents are scheduled to meet in May to vote on the issue.
Paul Ong, research professor and director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, and Sonja Diaz, director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, co-authored an opinion piece for NBC News about the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus pandemic on communities of color. Their research suggests that Latino and Asian neighborhoods will be most affected by the predicted loss of 1.6 million jobs in California by this summer. Furthermore, they argue that “Latino and Asian workers disproportionately rely on low-wage jobs where the most layoffs in the wake of COVID-19 are occurring.” They write that the CARES Act stimulus packages are not enough to protect these vulnerable households, especially undocumented immigrants and service workers who hold multiple part-time jobs. Ong and Diaz recommended that states create “recovery programs focused on those who are highest at risk of not receiving federal COVID-19 relief” so that no one is left out of the recovery.
UCLA Luskin has launched two new funds to support students experiencing hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Luskin School Student Emergency Fund focuses on providing emergency support and technological tools to students with financial need. The Luskin Undocumented Masters & Ph.D. Student Support Fund focuses on undocumented graduate students who have been hit hard by the pandemic but are ineligible for federal assistance. The funds are aimed at alleviating financial stress so that students can focus on academic success — in particular, on learning how to make an impact on the world with a UCLA Luskin education. Donations to the Luskin School Student Emergency Fund will be matched by a UCLA Luskin board member, including a dollar-to-dollar match up to $5,000 and an additional $5,000 if the fund receives donations from at least 100 donors. That fund will provide laptops, access to strong internet connections and other technology upgrades to students in need, in addition to emergency financial assistance. “Now more than ever, strength of community is imperative as we brave through this unique period of history,” Dean Gary Segura wrote in an open letter to the UCLA Luskin community. “We look to our alumni, parents, staff and friends to come together, for both keeping camaraderie for each other and to support our students.”
Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap was featured in the Los Angeles Times discussing gang intervention workers’ continued commitment to the communities they serve during the COVID pandemic. While much of Los Angeles is shuttered during this time, many gang intervention workers are continuing to interact with vulnerable populations, providing food and toiletries, mediating conflict and educating people about the importance of social distancing. Los Angeles has designated intervention workers as essential during the pandemic. “These are not just those guys who know how to negotiate peace treaties; they are a community asset,” Leap explained. Many of the intervention workers are themselves former gang members and are able to use their street credibility to dispel misinformation and educate people about the coronavirus. “Historically and presently, where authorities are not trusted, these men and women … are the go-between, the objects of trust.”
Public Policy Professor Manisha Shah was featured in a Vox Dev video discussing a community health and sanitation project across 160 villages in East Java, Indonesia. “Poor sanitation and hygiene are leading causes of high mortality rates among children under 5 in developing countries,” said Shah, director of the Global Lab for Research in Action at UCLA Luskin. The project aimed to improve health and sanitation practices by promoting the construction of latrines in rural villages. However, it did not provide financial assistance to the communities, limiting the impact on children’s health, Shah said. “If we’re serious about getting some of these poorer households to build toilets, coupling the demand-side intervention with things like subsidies or financial incentives could get us to much higher rates of latrine construction” and improve the general health of individuals in rural communities, she said.
Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor was featured in a War Horse article about the high suicide risk of children of military service members. Despite increases in the number of veteran suicides in the last 20 years, very little research has focused on the mental health and well-being of children of service members. Exposure to trauma from a parent’s combat experience, resistance to mental health care and high rates of gun ownership are factors that put military children at higher risk for suicide. Frequent school changes and parental absences can erode their support structures. “The military and the country have an obligation here,” Astor said. “If we’re going to stick with 1% of the population as our fighting force, the least we can do is provide them and their families with support if they’re suicidal.” In 2010, Astor helped launch an initiative to train California teachers to better understand the risk factors unique to military-connected students.