Urban Planning Professor Evelyn Blumenberg spoke to USA Today about the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on low-income households and workers. While transit ridership has dropped across the country since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, millions of Americans must continue riding public buses and trains to commute to work, go to the grocery store or visit the doctor. Experts say most of the people who have stopped riding public transit are white-collar workers who can work from home and who tend to be white; those who still rely on public transit, possibly putting themselves and those they encounter at risk, include many of the country’s poorest workers. “As always, higher-income households have more choices,” said Blumenberg, director of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies. “For low-income workers who have to take transit, they’re in a confined place, in close proximity to other people. Their problems are compounded. They have no other option.”
By Les Dunseith
Social workers. They are still out there.
They still walk Skid Row despite the COVID-19 pandemic. They still go to homes where children are in need. They still report to work at hospitals where patients die alone and families need to be located and told. It’s their job — their essential job — and they’re still doing it despite extraordinary circumstances that are making already difficult roles even more challenging.
“On a personal level, these social workers are making sacrifices of their own health, and potentially the health of their families, in order to continue to serve,” said Laura Abrams, professor of social welfare. “They know that they’re taking that risk, but they feel like it’s important to them. It’s their responsibility.”
Founded in 1947, the UCLA program is widely known and highly respected, particularly in California, where most of the 90 to 100 graduates each year go to work for city, county or state social services agencies.
Abrams, who is chair of social welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, knows this because she’s been talking to some of them, connecting with alumni of her program for Zoom calls to find out how they are doing.
What is it like for social workers right now?
Lavit Maas, who graduated in 2010 with her master’s in social welfare, works for the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health’s Homeless Outreach and Mobility Engagement team, which provides care on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles for homeless people with severe mental illness. Maas works with people who are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.
“There’s a lot of elderly on Skid Row,” she told Abrams. “There’s a lot of people with medical conditions. It’s terrifying because we don’t know what to do [for them]. It makes me sad.”
Gabby Peraza, a 2019 master’s in social welfare graduate, works with foster youth as part of her job with the county department of children and family services. Soon after the safer at home order was issued, she encountered a young girl who needed to be transferred to a new placement but was frightened by Peraza’s protective gear. The child cowered in fear, hiding behind a foster parent.
“I had to make the decision. I’m either going to have a kid crying with me — and forcing that kid into a car with me,” Peraza recalled. “I said, ‘All right, I’m going to take this mask off, take these gloves off, and just engage with this kid.’ ”
Abrams has been recording her video interviews, and they are being edited for privacy and clarity before being posted for educational purposes on a showcase page maintained by the Luskin School. [Or scroll to the bottom to view.] So far, eight interviews have been completed and three have been posted publicly. In all, Abrams expects to do at least eight, with interviewees who reflect the broad swath of roles in which social workers are employed.
The idea came to Abrams soon after she and her family moved inside to comply with the social distancing order that was issued March 19 in Los Angeles County.
“I felt very disconnected from what was happening out in the real world,” Abrams said.
A conversation about the impact that the coronavirus pandemic was having on a close friend in a medical career led Abrams to realize that few people were thinking about her former and current students in UCLA’s social welfare program. She knew they were being affected too, but how? So she reached out on Facebook to see if anyone wanted to talk.
“Social workers, they’re playing a vital role in this pandemic,” said Abrams, noting that they interact with people at the margins of society who are often overlooked by the general public and in media reports. “What’s happening out in the community, especially with really vulnerable populations like homeless folks or people in the jails or children in foster care?”
Abrams said she has learned a lot from the Zoom calls. For one thing, the feeling of personal safety varies from person to person and job to job. A social worker in a hospital, for example, said she had access to personal protective equipment and felt safe. But those who work for government agencies, however, said they were fearful about their level of protection from the novel coronavirus.
Many social workers said they are facing unexpected dilemmas, and “working in spaces in which their clients are not getting what they need,” Abrams said. For example, an alumna who works in a correctional facility observed that people being imprisoned there were not given proper access to soap and water so they could comply with orders to frequently wash their hands.
A surprise from her interviews was discovering that some facilities and social services are actually being underutilized at the moment. The number of cases being handled is less than usual for Peraza and for Madison Hayes, another 2019 master’s in social welfare graduate, who works in Sacramento at a shelter for foster youth. For both, the decline in cases mirrors a steep drop-off in calls to crisis hotlines and a lack of referrals from the mandatory reporters at public schools.
“We know that things like abuse and other family problems are probably increasing, but calls … are decreasing so dramatically,” Abrams said. “Child protection is basically falling apart because there’s no window to the outside world.”
Talking to social workers in the field has also reminded Abrams of the inequities that always exist in society.
“Access to health care: What does that mean?” Abrams asked. “Access to even having a home, to being sheltered? I am seeing the racial disparities and seeing the ways that the haves and the have-nots have different levels of access at this time.”
The interviews have also reminded Abrams of one other important — and more hopeful — aspect of society. People keep doing their jobs despite the risks involved.
“We all knew coming into this career that there’s always going to be a risk,” Peraza told Abrams about what it’s like to be a social worker during this crisis. “We just didn’t think it was going to be this type of risk.”
Peraza said it’s not about herself, it’s about the children and the families she serves.
Maas acknowledged the risks to her own health and the fear of getting infected and passing the virus along to a colleague or loved one. But there is work to be done.
“I love being a social worker and, to me, service is the only thing that matters,” Maas said. “Of course, you can’t be of service if you can’t protect yourself. I know that. But, especially in a time like this, I have to be of service.
By Eliza Moreno
Fifty-six percent of Latino-majority neighborhoods in Los Angeles County have a high proportion of residents at high risk for not receiving individual relief funds from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act, according to a UCLA report.
Its findings provide information that local and state officials can use to target resources and communications efforts in neighborhoods that are experiencing widespread economic distress. The CARES Act was passed by Congress in response to the economic disruptions associated with COVID-19; the measure includes payments to cover citizens’ basic needs.
“The global pandemic has put a spotlight on the cracks in our social safety net that often fail to catch those living in poverty, which disproportionately are people of color and immigrants,” said Sonja Diaz, founding director of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and a co-author of the report. “Entire neighborhoods will face economic uncertainty, and a public health crisis is not the time to ignore their needs. We are only as healthy as our most vulnerable, and many communities in Los Angeles County will need targeted assistance.”
The Los Angeles neighborhoods where residents are least likely to receive a stimulus check are concentrated in downtown Los Angeles, including Westlake/MacArthur Park, Koreatown, Chinatown, Skid Row and Pico Union.
Those most at risk for not receiving relief funding tend to be lower income, people of color, and live primarily in renter neighborhoods. Immigrants also have an elevated risk, according to the report.
“The lack of support puts entire communities at risk here in Los Angeles County and requires immediate attention,” said Paul Ong, the study’s lead author and director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, which is housed in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. Ong also is the founder of Ong & Associates, an economic and policy analysis consulting firm specializing in public interest issues, which provided services pro bono for the study.
The report recommends that state and local governments in the affected neighborhoods provide targeted support, including cash assistance and other social benefits, regardless of recipients’ citizenship status.
The report is the second analysis by the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge on the economic effects of the COVID-19 crisis on underserved neighborhoods. A report published on April 1 examined economic vulnerability due to retail and service sector closures across Los Angeles County neighborhoods.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville spoke to the San Diego Union-Tribune about the threat that the COVID-19 pandemic poses to plans to expand public transit in San Diego. A tax proposal for ElevateSD, a $24-billion plan to expand public transit and build a new commuter rail system, may be postponed as ridership plummets and fare revenue dwindles due to the pandemic. The government planning agency has announced that it will wait until the pandemic subsides to release a blueprint for the plans. Widespread unemployment, economic upheaval due to the pandemic and new fears about riding public transit may be obstacles to securing the two-thirds voter approval required for such a tax increase. “If you were an opponent of public transit finance, could you pounce on COVID as a new talking point to try to derail a ballot initiative?” Manville asked. “I wouldn’t be surprised if someone takes a shot at that.”
Public Policy Professor John Villasenor wrote an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education recommending that colleges and universities prepare for the possibility of remote learning in the fall term. The rapid spread of COVID-19 forced many universities to make a sudden switch to remote classes this spring. Planning for fall is overshadowed by continued uncertainty about the duration of the coronavirus emergency and whether it will be advisable for students to return to campus. Villasenor pondered whether “many [students] will elect to sit out the fall term rather than spend many thousands of dollars” on video-based remote learning if it extends into the next academic year. He urged institutions to survey students and their families to collect “critical data regarding enrollment, impacting everything from tuition revenue to class offerings to assignment of teaching assistants.” Villasenor also called on colleges to consider financial assistance to families hit hard by the pandemic.
Gregory Pierce, associate director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to Circle of Blue about California’s policy of suspending water shutoffs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hundreds of utilities and dozens of state governors and regulatory agencies have suspended the practice of shutting off water for residents who are late paying their utility bills and have eliminated late fees during the emergency period. However, Pierce expressed his concern that “residents are expected to pay those bills after the emergency orders are lifted, which could pose problems down the road for both individuals and utilities.” Pierce, an adjunct professor of urban planning, explained that “low-income residents are not going to have any greater ability to pay six months of bills six months from now than they are today.” Instead, Pierce argued that “utilities have to eat some of the loss” and they “have to expect less than 100% repayment.”
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville spoke to NBC LA about the record low number of car accidents following state and local “stay at home” orders in Southern California. With fewer drivers behind the wheel and the closure of all non-essential businesses to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, traffic crashes in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside and Ventura counties dropped 73% last month compared to March 2019. The total number of crashes causing fatalities, injury and property damage went from 21,270 in March 2019 to 5,827 last month. “The amount of travel that’s happening has fallen as close to zero as maybe we’ve ever seen in the modern era,” Manville said. The coronavirus traffic data is being used to inform discussions not only about the high toll that driving takes, but the environmental, social and economic impacts as well, such as how companies handle working from home.
JR DeShazo, director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to LAist about the complicated effect that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on vehicle emissions and air pollution in Los Angeles. Emptier roads have decreased vehicle emissions and nitrogen dioxide levels, yet experts have noted that smog levels are staying high later in the evening. While air pollution due to transportation-related emissions is decreasing, researchers can’t yet say with scientific certainty by how much — or what the lasting effects of that drop in emissions will be. Furthermore, DeShazo warns against compartmentalizing only the benefits of improved air quality while ignoring the huge human costs of the unprecedented global health crisis. “We’re seeing how important travel is to producing employment opportunities and educational opportunities and access to health care,” he explained. “I think we have to be very cautious in how we interpret this impact.”
By Les Dunseith
An overwhelming percentage (78%) of Los Angeles County residents say they are concerned that they or a member of their family will contract the novel coronavirus, according to a survey conducted between March 18 and 26 and released today by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
A solid majority (61%) of respondents expressed confidence in the response by local officials to the pandemic, but only 39% had similar confidence in the federal response.
“There are two clear takeaways,” said Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, which conducted the survey as part of an annual project known as the Quality of Life Index, or QLI. “The anxiety levels over contracting the virus and its economic impacts are overwhelming. And it’s a vote of confidence in the local public health agencies, while a vote of no confidence in the federal response.”
The results are based on interviews conducted with about 1,500 county residents during a period that happened to coincide with the implementation of stay-at-home orders in Los Angeles.
The QLI, which is a joint project of the UCLA Luskin Los Angeles Initiative and The California Endowment, is in its fifth year. Researchers poll a cross-section of Los Angeles County residents each year to understand the public’s perception of the quality of their own lives. Full results will be released April 23 as part of a UCLA event known as the Luskin Summit, which will be held virtually this year because of the ongoing health crisis. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6%.
Respondents indicated that they were very concerned (49%), somewhat concerned (29%), not too concerned (13%) or not concerned at all (7%) that they or a member of their family would contract the novel coronavirus. Women over the age of 50 expressed the greatest concern (62% were very concerned).
When asked whether the health crisis had or will have a negative economic impact on themselves personally, more than four out of five respondents (83%) said they were concerned, with 56% saying very concerned and 27% saying somewhat concerned. Again, women expressed the most concern, although in this case it was slightly higher among women aged 18 to 49 (61%) than among women aged 50 to 64 (60%).
Two questions were asked about the response of public health and government officials to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the results were almost mirror opposites. When asked if they were confident in the response of officials in Los Angeles County, 61% of respondents said yes and 31% said no, but just 39% said yes and 55% said no when asked if they were confident in the response of officials in the federal government. These results were generally consistent among demographic and geographic groups.
“In virtually no major demographic group did we find less than a majority expressing confidence in local officials,” Yaroslavsky said.
Some of the highest marks for local officials came from those aged 50 to 74 (69%), men aged 50 to 64 (72%) and women 65 and older (70%), as well as Latinos over age 50 (70%). Residents in every L.A. County supervisorial district expressed at least 59% confidence as a whole.
Hardly any major demographic group expressed majority confidence in the federal response. The lowest confidence levels came from 18-to-39-year-olds (33%), African Americans (32%), women aged 18 to 49 (31%), those with annual incomes above $120,000 (30%), whites aged 18 to 49 (23%) and residents of the 3rd Supervisorial District (28%), which encompasses Westside communities such as Santa Monica and Malibu, plus the north and western sections of the San Fernando Valley.
The QLI was prepared in partnership with the public opinion research firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates.