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Pandemic’s Toll on Southern California’s Asian American-Owned Businesses

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a significant portion of Asian American-owned businesses in Southern California had, by April 2021, experienced financial losses, closures and staff reductions, and many of them struggled to access local, state or federal aid, according to a new UCLA policy brief. The brief is based on data from a survey conducted during the first four months of 2021 by the Asian Business Association of Los Angeles, whose findings were published by the Asian Business Center, the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, directed by Research Professor Paul Ong, and the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, directed by Urban Planning Professor Karen Umemoto. Researchers asked 400 Asian American business owners in Southern California about the impact of the pandemic. Businesses represented a variety of industries, including manufacturing, retail, transportation, professional services, restaurants, services and health care. Roughly 60% of respondents reported a large negative effect from the pandemic. “While some companies were able to minimize their losses by pivoting to online sales, owners who are older reported that they struggled to make that transition,” Ong said. “On the other hand, younger business owners said they faced eligibility barriers when they tried to access recovery funds that would help their companies survive.” The policy brief recommends that policymakers simplify the financial relief application process and work with community organizations to provide additional technical assistance for business owners. Three out of four of the businesses surveyed were immigrant-owned, and nearly half were owned by women. People of Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese descent made up the largest portion of the survey. — Jessica Wolf

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Diaz on Strategies to Engage Latino Electorate

Sonja Diaz, executive director of UCLA’s Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, spoke to CBS News about the importance of engaging Latino voters, who make up nearly 28% of the California electorate. Latinos’ priorities are largely dependent on where they live, Diaz said. “Los Angeles County was the epicenter of COVID 19. … In places like the Central Valley, you could see the closure of small businesses. In other places throughout the state, it’s issues of housing insecurity,” she said, advising campaigns and political parties to “meet Latino voters where they are and actually have the nuanced messaging that is geographical tailored.” In many diverse communities, trusted messengers such as medical professionals at local clinics are key in communicating that protecting one’s health and casting a ballot are important acts of civic engagement. “You need to identify the people that diverse households are going to respond to, especially since there is this plethora of misinformation and disinformation that target these households,” Diaz said.


Recall Vote Has High Stakes for COVID-19 Battle, Diaz Says

Sonja Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke with KPBS about changes to California’s policies to combat COVID-19 if Gov. Gavin Newsom is removed from office — including potential cuts in funding to deal with the pandemic. “We know who suffers when bad policy exists … and that’s Black and brown communities who have borne the brunt of the health and wealth impacts of this pandemic,” she said. “One need only look at states like Arizona, Georgia and Florida for the role of a governor who’s anti-science in dealing with the pandemic.” Diaz also spoke to the Associated Press about the electoral power of Latinos, who now make up 40% of California’s population but are less likely to vote than other groups. And she spoke with Spectrum News about the importance of investing in turnout to motivate people of color to vote. 

Yaroslavsky on Political Reverberations From Recall Election

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to USA Today about the potential for nationwide repercussions if California Gov. Gavin Newsom is ousted in Tuesday’s recall election. Newsom’s removal could fuel efforts to dismantle vaccine mandates and other COVID-19 restrictions, and embolden Republicans who will battle to take control of both chambers of Congress in the 2022 midterm elections. It could also undermine California’s reputation as a progressive trendsetter. “When California sneezes, the rest of the country catches a cold,” said Yaroslavsky, a former Los Angeles County supervisor and city councilman. California’s ouster of a Democrat would be a “political earthquake” that could shake the rest of the nation, he added. Yaroslavsky also spoke to the Jewish News Syndicate about the role of the Jewish electorate, noting, “There’s an undemocratic piece to this recall, which I think offends the sensibilities of the Jewish community.” 


Latinos in Labor Unions Were Better Protected From Job Losses During Pandemic UCLA study finds Latinos in non-union jobs were seven times more likely to become unemployed amid COVID-19 surge

Latinos in non-union jobs were seven times more likely than Latinos in labor unions to fall into unemployment during three key months early in the pandemic, according to a new report by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative.

The report also found that Black and Latino union workers had higher wages than their counterparts in non-union jobs during the pandemic, but that both groups still received lower pay than white workers in union jobs.

Following previous studies demonstrating that Latinos faced disproportionate public health and economic consequences during the pandemic, the new report highlights the benefits that labor unions can provide to vulnerable workers during an economic crisis, said Sonja Diaz, the founding director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative.

“Labor unions gave us child labor regulations, work-free weekends and the collective power to demand better conditions,” Diaz said. “Our report shows that during economic downturns such as the one we faced amid COVID-19, union jobs can also provide much-needed stability for workers and their families.”

The report’s authors analyzed data from the Current Population Survey, which is conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, to understand the impact of the pandemic on employment rates, wages and union protections between January 2020 and June 2021. The time frame was chosen so the researchers could compare conditions from the outset of the pandemic in the U.S., the months of uncertainty that followed and the time period when policy actions began to spur an economic recovery.

Unionized workers of all races and ethnicities were less likely than non-union workers to experience job loss during the height of the economic downturn, but the report found that the effect was most pronounced among Latinos. For example, from April to June 2020, the employment rate for Latinos in labor unions fell by only 2.5%, while the employment rate for all union workers declined by 10.2%. During the same period, the employment rate for Latinos who were not in labor unions declined by 18.5%, representing a loss of nearly 4.3 million jobs.

Diaz said the nation’s economic recovery is inextricably tied to how well Latinos can bounce back from the setbacks they experienced during the pandemic. The report recommends policy actions including passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2021, a bill that would make it harder for employers to obstruct organizing efforts. The legislation is currently awaiting action in the U.S. Senate.

“The economic devastation spurred by COVID-19 made it clear that it’s essential to build more resiliency and strengthen wages for the nation’s workers, particularly for groups that are most vulnerable during a crisis,” said UCLA research analyst Misael Galdamez, the report’s lead author. “Unionization is an important tool to give workers the economic stability and dignity that they deserve.”

Previous research by the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative has examined other aspects of how the pandemic has affected the nation’s economy and labor force, including one study which found that Latinas were more likely to drop out of the workforce than workers from other demographic groups.

Keum on Suicide Risk in Communities of Color

A report by Kaiser Health News and Science Friday on the growing suicide crisis among people of color cited research by Brian Keum, assistant professor of social welfare. While overall suicide rates in the U.S. decreased in 2019 and 2020, rates in the Black, Hispanic and Asian American communities continued to climb in many states. Suicide rates also remain consistently high for Native Americans. Although the suicide rate is highest among middle-aged white men, young people of color are emerging as particularly at risk, the report noted. The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have exacerbated the crisis, and researchers are looking into the role played by job losses, social isolation, racial tensions, mental illness and social media use. The report cited Keum’s preliminary research findings, which indicate that experiencing racism and sexism together is linked to a threefold increase in suicidal thoughts for Asian American women.

Manville on Heavy Burden of Rent Debt as Pandemic Drags On

An Orange County Register story on frustrations surrounding California’s rental assistance program, which made $5.2 billion available to help low-income tenants and their landlords during the COVID-19 pandemic, cited research led by the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies at UCLA Luskin. Surveys conducted in July 2020 and March 2021 found that, in Los Angeles County, renters’ debt rose sharply as the pandemic dragged on. Almost half of those surveyed in March turned to friends and family to help them pay rent, 58% dipped into their savings and 37% took out an emergency or payday loan, the study found. “That’s a lot of debt that people have accumulated, and they will be left out in the cold if we end up moving forward with a program that just pays your rent,” said Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville, co-author of the study. The research was also highlighted by Commercial Observer and Multi-Housing News.

U.S. Sick and Medical Leave Policies Widen Racial Inequalities, Study Finds

Paid sick and medical leave is a powerful tool for preventing the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases and ensuring all workers have access to treatment, yet tens of millions of American workers lack coverage. The U.S. is one of just 11 countries in the world without a national, permanent paid medical leave policy, according to new research led by Jody Heymann, distinguished professor of public health, public policy and medicine. Further, unpaid leave provided by the U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is restricted by eligibility rules that have created marked racial and gender gaps, said Heymann, who directs the WORLD Policy Analysis Center at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. The study, published in Health Affairs, included these findings:

  • In the private sector, 18.7% of Latinas, compared to just 8.4% of white men, lack access to FMLA leave because of its minimum annual hours requirement.
  • Requiring one year with the same employer excludes higher shares of Black (22%), Indigenous (22.9%) and self-identified multiracial (27.7%) workers than white workers (19%).
  • Over a third of private-sector workers are employed by a business with fewer than 50 employees, making them ineligible for FMLA benefits.

The study’s analysis of data from 181 countries found that providing paid sick and medical leave to all workers — including the self-employed, a group commonly excluded from key social security and labor protections — is readily achievable. “Only by ensuring we design our paid leave policies to reach every worker can we protect public health and take one important step toward rectifying the longstanding and devastating racial and socioeconomic inequalities that have only intensified during this pandemic,” Heymann said.


 

Shah Co-Authors Report on Disproportionate COVID-19 Risk Among Latinos Local context is a key factor in the level of risk, the study of Medicaid patients in Contra Costa County finds

By Stan Paul

UCLA Luskin Professor of Public Policy Manisha Shah co-authored a study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, that showed Latinos had much higher odds of testing positive for COVID-19 than whites.

The USC-UCLA study, conducted in a Northern California regional medical center with a diverse group of adults enrolled in a county Medicaid managed care plan, also indicated a marked racial disparity in odds of hospitalization and death from COVID-19. Researchers noted that, while the coronavirus has disproportionately affected racial and ethnic minorities nationwide, in their California study, infection, hospitalization and death were higher for Latinos, but not Black patients, relative to white patients.

The researchers point out that socioeconomic differences may confound racial and ethnic differences in testing and that “the role of sociodemographic, clinical and neighborhood factors in accounting for racial/ethnic differences in COVID-19 outcomes remains unclear.”

The study included data from more than 84,000 adult Medicaid patients at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center. The researchers hypothesized that, because all of the patients had Medicaid, “racial/ethnic disparities in testing and outcomes would narrow when controlling for demographics, comorbidities and ZIP code-level characteristics.”

They also expected that these characteristics would be reduced relative to previous studies, given similar insurance coverage, household income and access to health-care providers. Among their conclusions, the researchers highlighted that racial and ethnic disparities depend on local context, citing studies from other states with differing results.

“The substantially higher risk facing Latinos should be a key consideration in California’s strategies to mitigate disease transmission and harm,” they recommend.

“We learned a lot about testing and hospitalization disparities through this study,” Shah said. “We recently implemented a randomized controlled trial with our Contra Costa County partners to better understand vaccine take-up among the vaccine hesitant.”

Shah said that the research team is testing the role of financial incentives, reducing appointment scheduling frictions, and provider messages on COVID-19 vaccine take-up in this diverse Medicaid managed care population.

“We are excited to share the results from this vaccine take-up study very soon,” Shah said.

Additional authors include Mireille Jacobson, associate professor at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and senior fellow at the USC Schaeffer School for Health Policy and Economics; Tom Chang, associate professor of finance and business economics at the USC Marshall School of Business; Samir Shah, CEO of Contra Costa Regional Medical Center; and Rajiv Pramanik at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center & Health Centers, Contra Costa Health Service.

Ong on L.A.’s ‘Web of Urban Inequality’

A Los Angeles Times story on landlords who skirt anti-eviction rules enacted in response to the COVID-19 outbreak cited research from the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK) at UCLA Luskin. A Times analysis of data from the Los Angeles Police Department revealed more than 290 instances of potential illegal lockouts and utility shutoffs across the city over 10 weeks beginning in March. The largest share of those police calls was in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods in South L.A. CNK research shows that members of these communities, who faced disproportionately high rent burdens even before the pandemic, often work in food service and other sectors with significant wage reductions and job losses due to COVID-19. “This is a web of urban inequality,” CNK Director Paul Ong said. “We could talk about housing, we could talk about jobs, we could talk about health. But the truth of the matter is all these things are interlocked.”