Latino Policy and Politics Initiative Executive Director Sonja Diaz authored an opinion piece in the California Health Report about disparities in the American health care system. “The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed immense inequities across our health care systems, from coverage gaps to preexisting health conditions,” Diaz wrote. These inequities are felt most acutely by communities of color, she said, calling for urgent action to address the physician shortage and “diversify the field to include more doctors who share language, ethnicity and cultural norms with their patients.” Despite the diversity of the American population, communities of color remain underrepresented in health and medical occupations, which hinders physicians’ abilities to build trust with patients. “Expanding and diversifying our physician pool is a necessary infrastructure investment,” Diaz wrote. She suggested increasing opportunities for Americans to enter health professions by expanding federal scholarships and prioritizing students committed to serving in medically underserved areas for grant funding.
Urban Planning Professor Karen Umemoto spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the opening of the Terasaki Budokan gym and community center in Little Tokyo. After decades of planning and a $35-million fundraising effort, the opening of the Budokan in June was a huge victory for the Little Tokyo community. Umemoto explained that many Japanese immigrants settled in what became Little Tokyo in the late 19th century after being shut out from other neighborhoods due to racial discrimination. Later, those same Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from Little Tokyo when the U.S. government sent them to concentration camps during World War II. The Budokan will host sports leagues, afterschool programs, classes for senior citizens and cultural events, but most importantly, it will be a gathering place in a historic neighborhood threatened by assimilation and gentrification. It will also help young people connect with their roots and may help revive business in Little Tokyo’s stores and restaurants.
Tierra Bills, an expert on the socioeconomic impacts of transportation decisions, will join the UCLA Luskin Public Policy faculty in January.
Bills’ research interests include equity analysis, travel behavior modeling, community-based data collection and transportation-performance measurement. In a joint appointment with the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, she will teach two courses, “Transportation Equity” and “Travel Behavior Analysis and Forecasting.”
“Too often in the past, political expediency led to the routing of transportation systems like freeways and rail lines without adequate concern for their negative impacts on poorer, mostly ethnic neighborhoods,” UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura said. “The health and economic fallout of those decisions continues to have severe societal impacts, especially in congested urban areas. Future city planners and civil engineers alike will benefit from the expertise of Professor Bills in learning how to create more equitable transportation systems that avoid repeating past mistakes.”
Bills’ appointment as an assistant professor of public policy and civil and environmental engineering is part of a UCLA-wide “Rising to the Challenge” initiative spearheaded by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies to expand the scope and depth of scholarship that addresses racial equity issues. Announced in June 2020 by Chancellor Gene Block and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Emily Carter, the program was established to help UCLA advance diversity, equity and inclusion. The plan includes the recruitment of 10 new faculty members over five years whose scholarly work addresses issues of Black experience.
“In order to help our students achieve technological breakthroughs that will improve the quality of life and society, we need to recruit faculty who understand the complex and entrenched inequities along racial and socioeconomic lines and address them in their research and teaching,” UCLA Samueli Dean Jayathi Murthy said. “Professor Bills brings the expertise at the nexus of engineering and public policy, which will greatly benefit our students as they tackle challenges in designing more equitable transportation systems.”
Bills is currently an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Wayne State University in Detroit. Prior to that, she was a Michigan Society Fellow and an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She has also served as a lecturer at Strathmore University in Nairobi, Kenya, and as a research scientist at IBM Research Africa, where she used data from smartphones to analyze the quality of transportation. Bills is a co-principal investigator on two current studies, funded by the National Science Foundation, focusing on transit issues in resource-constrained communities.
Bills received her B.S. in civil engineering technology from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University and her M.S. and Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering and transportation engineering from UC Berkeley.
Prior to the 2020 U.S. census, many observers feared that large segments of the population would be undercounted. Those fears appear to have been realized, according to a UCLA analysis of the census data.
The study, conducted by the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, found that in Los Angeles County, residents in some neighborhoods were much more likely than others to be excluded from the 2020 census. Specifically, the research (PDF) concluded that — at the census-tract level — undercounts were most likely in areas where the majority of residents are Hispanic or Asian, have lower incomes, rent their homes or were born outside of the U.S.
Paul Ong, a research professor at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, and Jonathan Ong of Ong and Associates, a public-interest consulting firm, combed through data published Aug. 12 by the U.S. Census Bureau.
“The results are, unfortunately, consistent with our worst fear that the 2020 enumeration faced numerous potentially insurmountable barriers to a complete and accurate count,” Paul Ong said.
The research team compared the information to earlier population estimates drawn from the census bureau’s American Community Survey to determine whether and where the 2020 enumeration appeared to undercount or overcount the population within each neighborhood in Los Angeles County.
A key difference between the American Community Survey and the 2020 census, Paul Ong said, is that the COVID-19 pandemic severely affected data collection for the census. Previous research showed that disruption was particularly pronounced in disadvantaged neighborhoods. That appears to have created a “differential undercount,” meaning that some populations were more likely than other groups not to be counted. That, in turn, means that the scope of ethnic diversity and demographic change in cities like Los Angeles could be significantly underestimated, he said.
Based on comparisons between the latest census data and the most recent American Community Survey estimates, the UCLA study found that in Los Angeles County:
- Predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods are most likely to have the largest undercounts in the census.
- Neighborhoods with the greatest percentage of people living below the poverty line were most likely to have undercounts.
- Neighborhoods with larger percentages of renters, as opposed to homeowners, were more likely to have undercounts.
- Census tracts in which most people are U.S.-born were more likely to be accurately counted than predominantly immigrant neighborhoods.
The pandemic wasn’t the only factor that hampered data collection for the 2020 census. The effort was also adversely affected by the Trump administration’s highly publicized push to include a citizenship question on the questionnaire. Although that effort was ultimately unsuccessful, Paul Ong said the controversy may have depressed participation among immigrants, whether they were undocumented or not.
“The findings indicate that the needless politicization of the 2020 enumeration seriously dampened participation by those targeted by the Trump administration,” he said.
Problems with the self-reporting aspect of the census placed greater pressure on the subsequent on-the-ground outreach in which census-takers canvassed nonresponding households. The success of that follow-up drive will not be known until a post-census analysis is conducted, which is scheduled for 2022.
The UCLA analysis is consistent with results from previous studies that have shown undercounts likelier to occur in disadvantaged communities. How residents are counted is important because census results influence legislative redistricting and government spending, which means the results can have serious political and economic implications.
“Given the analysis, it is imperative that we address the inequality in the census to ensure fair political representation in redistricting,” Paul Ong said.
Unlike previous corrective efforts, which address census undercounts based on national statistics and results from a comparatively small number of districts, the UCLA research relied on data specific to each neighborhood. As a result, Paul Ong said, the new approach should be more accurate and precise, and it could ultimately help officials understand how to adjust population statistics to account for the differential bias in completing the 2020 census and future counts.
Undercounts are of most concern, but the technique could also help identify overcounts, which are rarer but can occur. Military redeployments may lead to overcounts, for example; other situations include some students who get counted twice while splitting time between home and college, and miscounts of people with second homes or people who experience a stay in a nursing home while also holding a permanent residence.
Ong & Associates, of which Paul Ong is the founder, provided services pro bono for the study.
Sonja Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Univision about the political power of the growing Latino electorate. Newly released data from the 2020 Census confirmed that the non-Hispanic white population shrunk the most over the last decade in the United States while the populations identifying as Hispanic, Latino or multiracial grew. According to Diaz, the census data is integral to political voice and ensuring fair redistricting. “When we redraw the lines, we should see Latino political voice and political power protected under the Voting Rights Act and their ability to elect their candidate of choice,” Diaz said. While the census’ undercount of some communities is still unclear, Diaz predicted that the United States will continue to see population growth among Asian Americans and Latinos in the next few decades.
In an interview with the American Society on Aging, Professor of Social Welfare and Public Policy Fernando Torres-Gil spoke about his research in the field of aging as well as his own life story. After contracting polio as a child, Torres-Gil described his commitment to education despite going in and out of hospitals for years. “My particular disability opened doors that at that time were not available to low-income, ethnic or minority communities,” he said. When Torres-Gil first got involved in gerontology, the field was primarily focused on the aging of white older adults. His research focused on diversity within the older population, and he has also explored aging as an intergenerational issue. “Aging is not just about older persons,” he explained. “Aging is a lifelong process.” He recommended expanding universal healthcare, guaranteeing minimum income and providing retirement security in order to ensure that young people are able to enjoy their longevity.
Assistant Professor of Public Policy Jasmine Hill spoke to Dot LA about the findings of PledgeLA’s survey of Los Angeles technology companies and venture firms. While the tech industry in Los Angeles has made efforts to increase the diversity of its workforce, the survey highlighted the disparities that still exist in pay and representation. “Tech oftentimes likes to think of itself as a very equal, egalitarian space,” said Hill, who helped analyze the data for PledgeLA. “But the data shows something different.” The report found that Black and Latino workers make less money than their peers, and women earned an average of $20,000 less than men regardless of role or experience. PledgeLA was able to break down earnings data by race as a result of an increased participation rate from PledgeLA companies in the survey, but Hill noted that the report is not representative of the entire L.A. tech scene because it only includes data from the participating PledgeLA companies.
The American Planning Association’s Los Angeles section bestowed multiple awards on the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin and also honored the late Martin Wachs, professor emeritus of urban planning. Wachs, who passed away unexpectedly in April 2021, received the Planning Pioneer Award for his lifelong work as a renowned transportation scholar. The Institute of Transportation Studies won the following honors:
- The Academic Award of Excellence for the paper “School Transportation Equity for Vulnerable Student Populations Through Ridehailing: An Analysis of HopSkipDrive and Other Trips to School,” authored by doctoral student Samuel Speroni and advised by Urban Planning Professor Evelyn Blumenberg
- The Academic Award of Merit for the paper “Need for Speed: Opportunities for Peak Hour Bus Lanes Along Parking Corridors in Los Angeles,” written by Mark Hansen MURP ’20.
- The Planning Landmark Award of Excellence for the UCLA Lake Arrowhead Symposium, a series of virtual sessions centering on transportation and the pandemic.
The American Planning Association is a national organization that aims to unite leaders and professionals across the field of planning. Every year, the organization’s Los Angeles section recognizes the outstanding work, best practices and thought leaders that impact the built and natural environment in Los Angeles County.— Zoe Day
Evelyn Blumenberg, urban planning professor and director of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, was cited in a Bloomberg Government article about President Biden’s efforts to promote equity in his administration. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has pledged to consider the needs of minority communities when evaluating old projects or considering new ones, but he has also acknowledged the hurdles that exist — including in the Transportation Department itself. The department’s employees are 74% male and 70% white, and these demographic trends have been consistent for at least 20 years, if not longer. Many transportation projects have negatively impacted lower-income people and communities of color, an issue that has been exacerbated by the lack of diversity in transportation policy officials. Blumenberg commented that the transportation needs of low-income communities have only been “sporadically addressed” on the national level.
A Los Angeles Daily News article on the nomination of Assemblyman Rob Bonta as California’s next attorney general included comments from Sonja Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin. Bonta’s nomination completes a trio of high-profile appointments by Gov. Gavin Newsom. He tapped former Secretary of State Alex Padilla as the first California Latino to serve in the U.S. Senate. He picked former Assemblywoman Shirley Weber as the first Black secretary of state. And he selected Bonta as the first Filipino-American to be California’s top law officer. “I applaud Gov. Gavin Newsom for making California a model for the country in how to rectify the willful neglect of growing and youthful communities of color who are left out of key decision-making positions across our most fundamental institutions by sending the first Filipino to lead the nation’s second-largest Department of Justice,” Diaz said.