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Anheier on German Economic and Social Reform

“For government, the most important objectives are to reverse two key trends: rising economic inequality and declining social mobility,” said Helmut Anheier, adjunct professor of social welfare, in a recent Project Syndicate interview on German economic and social reform. Anheier, who also holds posts at Hertie School of Governance and Heidelberg University in Germany, argued that policies that could advance these goals include a livable minimum wage, reforms to the system for delivering unemployment and welfare benefits, and massive investments in education and skills training. Anheier, editor-in-chief of the new UC Press publication Global Perspectives, also commented on a number of topics including globalization, philanthropy in the time of COVID-19 and lessons to be learned from Germany’s past. “Germany has come to terms with its history … but it still hasn’t developed a clear vision of a multi-ethnic society – vital to prevent the kind of divisiveness one sees today in the United States and United Kingdom.”


 

Shah Predicts Long-Term Impact of COVID on Sex Work Industry

Public Policy Professor Manisha Shah spoke to the Chicago Tribune about how the COVID pandemic has impacted the sex work industry. The lockdown has forced many sex workers to switch to offering online services, including phone encounters, texting and video streaming. Many sex workers are ineligible for jobless benefits and have found the transition to online services to be considerably less lucrative than their normal gigs. While the economy is starting to reopen, Shah predicted that the sex work industry will likely trail the pack. “I don’t think sex work will go back to its pre-pandemic state even when stay-at-home orders ease as potential clients will still feel wary of in-person meetings,” Shah said. “It will likely take longer, perhaps even until a vaccine, before people feel comfortable interacting in person for sex services.” 

Call for Rebuilding an Equitable Nation Cites Gilens Data

A New York Times editorial on inequalities exposed by the coronavirus pandemic and the urgency of building a more resilient nation cited research by Public Policy Chair Martin Gilens on the distribution of political power. “This nation was ailing long before the coronavirus reached its shores,” the editorial stated, noting that the fragility of U.S. society made it particularly vulnerable to the ravages of COVID-19. Policies designed not in the common interest but to protect the wealthy are at the root of this reality, the editorial argued. It cited research from Gilens and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University showing that between 1981 and 2002, policies supported by at least 80% of affluent voters passed into law about 45% of the time, while policies opposed by at least 80% of those voters passed into law just 18% of the time.  The views of poor and middle-class voters had little influence, the study found.

Shelter-in-Place Burden Felt Keenly in Vulnerable Neighborhoods

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.


 

Residents in L.A.’s Latino Neighborhoods Less Likely to Receive Relief Funds Researchers from UCLA Luskin combine forces to recommend that local leaders fill gaps in COVID-19 stimulus funding

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.

The paper was written by researchers from the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge.

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.

Eight Ways to Advance Societal Equity in Battling Coronavirus


A Wealth of Knowledge About Debt In a new role as associate faculty director at the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, Hannah Appel will focus on the future of finance in an era of mass household indebtedness

By Les Dunseith

There are at least 13,500,000,000,000 reasons why people should care about the expertise of Hannah Appel and what she will be bringing to her new role as associate faculty director at the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

That eye-popping number represents $13.5 trillion — the Federal Reserve’s current estimate of consumer debt (which Appel prefers to call “household debt”) in the United States.

Ananya Roy, director of the institute, says Appel’s scholarship and her participation in organized efforts to combat predatory financial practices make her an ideal fit for a leadership role at the institute, which promotes a unique pairing of research and critical thought with social movements and activism in its efforts to combat societal inequalities.

“Hannah Appel is one of those rare academics whose scholarship has had a direct impact on the urgent social justice issues of the day,” said Roy, professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography at UCLA. “We expect that she will greatly expand the impact of the institute on one of the key structural processes of inequality in the United States: crushing debt and predatory financialization.”

Financialization, which relates to a “growing scale and profitability of the finance sector at the expense of the rest of the economy,” according to Forbes, will be a primary focus for Appel as she oversees one of the four research streams heralded by the institute — “Debt and Predatory Financialization.”


‘You are not alone, you are not a loan, and you are not defined by the kinds of financial relationships you have.’
—Hannah Appel, assistant professor of anthropology and global studies

One of her first goals? Rethink the name.

“I feel like debt is something that people feel trapped in — in a kind of permanent way. ‘I’m in it and I can never get out of it,’” Appel said.

By changing the terminology — the working title is the “Future of Finance” — she hopes to redirect conversations toward solutions; specifically, to look at the power that debt can wield if leveraged collectively. “You are not alone, you are not a loan, and you are not defined by the kinds of financial relationships you have,” Appel said.

Although Roy and the Institute on Inequality and Democracy she founded in 2015-16 are based at UCLA Luskin, the mission has always been cross-departmental. Appel is an assistant professor of anthropology and global studies in the UCLA College and co-founder of the Debt Collective, an activist group that organizes debtors’ unions.

As she was finishing her doctorate in anthropology from Stanford during the Great Recession, Appel landed a postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia University in New York City that happened to coincide with the start of the Occupy Wall Street movement there.

She soon found herself amid a collection of like-minded activists and intellectuals who were troubled by the fact that so many people wound up losing their homes as a result of greed and risky financial decisions made by wealthy investment interests.

“Why is it that this kind of drama on Wall Street is dispossessing people of their homes or knocking people out of their jobs?” Appel recalls thinking at the time. “People used to phrase it about 10 years ago as the relationship between Wall Street and Main Street. And I was very compelled by that question.”

The search for an answer relates directly to Appel’s involvement in social movements — and the promise of her role at the Institute on Inequality and Democracy.

Viewed in isolation, she says, household debt may seem like a personal problem. But in aggregate — remember that $13.5 trillion? — such debt is potentially a new form of collective financial power.

Appel studies and teaches on the daily life of capitalism, from transnational corporations and the private sector in Africa to the relationship between financialization and household debt in the United States, where household indebtedness has become increasingly systemic during the last 30 years.

The astronomical rise in student debt is certainly part of that. “But there are people indebted for their own incarceration and having to pay legal fines and fees,” Appel said. “And then, of course, there is scale. It scales to municipal debt — where our cities are indebted and can no longer afford to fix streets or fund public schools.”

At the heart of Appel’s scholarship are people in crisis.

She cites an all-too-common example of a person saddled with student debt and household debt who then gets cancer and discovers that health insurance doesn’t fully pay for chemotherapy.

“If they can manage to pay for the chemo and still make the mortgage payments, of course they’re not going to pay their student loan, right?” Appel said. “So, there are ways that these forms of debt are always intersecting and can never be understood separately.”

Regarding student debt, she is encouraged that “transformative policy proposals are on the table” in the current presidential campaign. “Certainly, it’s the first time in my lifetime that there are two articulated proposals to discharge all $1.6 trillion in student debt,” Appel said, noting that other policy proposals would eliminate tuition and fees at public colleges like the University of California system.

Even if such sweeping policy changes never come to pass, however, Appel is certain that solutions to predatory financial practices can be achieved. It’s an optimism that is based on her own experience.

Appel’s involvement in Occupy Wall Street and her ongoing research related to the anthropology of capitalism led her to help found the Debt Collective. It’s an approach that borrows from workers’ unions by bringing together people with shared leverage over the financial system.

“If one of the very simple lessons of a union is that there’s power in numbers, then what would collective action under finance capitalism look like? Thinking analogously to workers’ unions, then the answer is debtors’ unions,” Appel said.

Soon after it started, the Debt Collective found success by uniting former Corinthian College students who were saddled with debt. At the time, Corinthian was the second-largest national chain of for-profit colleges in the country.

One group of people in Ontario, California, had a “tremendous amount of debt from the Corinthian Colleges. Some had degrees that were worthless or had dropped out because they realized how much debt they were accruing and how bad their education was,” Appel said.

The Debt Collective began working with Corinthian College debtors and this initial effort eventually led to “an enormous union of for-profit college debtors — roughly 150,000 people … and that union has discharged over $1 billion of for-profit students’ debt.”

Appel says this example shows that debtors’ unions can work.

She pauses to contemplate years of study, struggle and frustration that finally seem to be paying off in benefits for people in need. Appel takes a deep breath, smiles, then continues.

“You know, I also have a tremendous amount of student debt myself. I was thinking of making T-shirts that said, ‘I am your professor. I also have student debt, and I think yours is unjust. Let’s talk.”

Public Financing of Elections Empowers Voters, Gilens Says

Professor of Public Policy Martin Gilens penned an opinion piece for the Times Union in support of publicly financed state elections in New York. A change in the language used in the New York state budget created a commission to review the potential of publicly financing elections. Gilens argued that New York can “reclaim democracy from the jaws of Big Money through a statewide system of publicly financed elections.” Reform is necessary because 40 percent of the money spent on federal elections came from 0.01 percent of the population in 2016, he argued. Affluent and organized interest groups hold more influence over the outcomes of elections, while the lower and middle classes hold virtually no influence, Gilens’ research found. Gilens said New York has the opportunity to challenge the status quo and promote a government for the people.


 

Tilly on Economic Imbalance Exacerbated by Amazon’s Search for HQ2

Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly discussed Amazon’s failure to reverse the concentration of wealth and power in the United States in a Ringer article explaining disappointment in the company’s choice for a second headquarters. Amazon garnered national attention when it announced the search for a home for “HQ2,” inviting cities with at least 1 million residents, an established mass transit system and proximity to an international airport to apply. Many saw this as an opportunity to spur economic growth in cities beyond established hubs. However, Amazon ultimately chose two smaller sites in New York and Virginia — both close to CEO Jeff Bezos’ personal homes in Washington, D.C., and New York City. Many cities vying to lure HQ2 were never realistic options for Amazon, Tilly said. He added, “The whole thing was a show with the ultimate purpose of getting the best possible benefits from one or more cities on the short list they already had in mind. I don’t think there was a genuine process of scoring the map of the United States.” 



2018 Activists-in-Residence Welcomed at Reception

The Institute on Inequality and Democracy (II&D) at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and the UCLA Asian American Studies Center welcomed Manuel Criollo and Yvonne Yen Liu as the 2018 UCLA Activist-in-Residence Fellows during a reception held Jan. 11, 2018, at the UCLA Luskin Commons. Criollo is the Irvine Fellow on Urban Life and Liu is the UCLA Asian American Studies Center Fellow for the Winter Quarter. “Manuel Criollo is a legend in the activist and community organizing worlds of Los Angeles,” Ananya Roy, director of  II&D and professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography, told the audience of students, faculty and community partners at the standing-room-only reception. “He has not only tackled urgent racial justice issues but has also built networks of leadership that can in turn build power.” The Activist-in-Residence Program was developed by the two research centers to recognize the work of individuals working on community-led social change and to build stronger links between UCLA and the community. Fellows are encouraged to pursue research or reflect on their community work to advance racial, social and economic equity, as well as encouraging UCLA students to develop or strengthen their own commitment to social justice. During his residency, Criollo will research and document the formation of the Los Angeles School Police Department, create a timeline of community struggles against school policing, and organize an organizers exchange on UCLA’s campus. Liu will explore the history of solidarity economies in the Asian American immigrant and refugee experience to guide future community economic development and forge collective economic agency.

View a Flickr album from the reception:

2018 Activist-in-Residence Reception