UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge Director Paul Ong spoke to the Riverside Press-Enterprise about demographic shifts in Southern California as a result of the pandemic and the affordable housing crisis. The population of Los Angeles County has been declining for years as part of a statewide mass migration from coastal to inland counties and into other states. The pandemic exacerbated this trend, allowing many people to leave areas with high housing costs but keep their jobs with work-from-home freedom. While there could be some short-term positives, “in the long run it’s going to hurt our economy” if housing costs stay so high that they put artificial constraints on the population, Ong said. “We’re robbing ourselves from growing in a positive way. It’s not a desirable outcome.” He added, “Patterns we’ve seen are a warning to us, highlighting structural problems that existed in California before the pandemic — deep problems we need to solve.”
UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge Director Paul Ong spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the decline in California’s population, largely driven by lower immigration, fewer births and pandemic deaths. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, California experienced a net loss of 262,000 residents between July 1, 2020, and July 1, 2021, mostly from Los Angeles County. Ong pointed out that while the COVID-19 pandemic probably played a role in less immigration, the number of international migrants has been steadily declining for several years. “It’s a combination of those things, but certainly it was happening before the pandemic,” Ong said. “In some ways, it’s part of what we see historically in terms of immigrants — that they do settle and cluster in a few areas and cities, but over time they move away.” Ong said that a shrinking population can have a negative effect on the local economy and result in a decrease in the number of skilled workers in a region.
Michael Storper, distinguished professor of regional and international development in urban planning, was featured in an ABC7 News video about the evolution of the California dream. After more than a century of rapid growth, population growth in California has slowed in recent decades. Americans are choosing where to go on the basis of jobs, housing, climate, family and other factors, and many are leaving the Golden State for places such as Texas, Nevada and Arizona. Storper explained that comparing population growth rates in California to other states is like comparing apples to oranges. “Big metropolitan areas like Los Angeles and San Francisco are still quite attractive to high-skilled, high-income people, so there is a net inflow of those groups,” he said. However, these areas are less attractive for low-income and low-education groups. Storper asked, “How can we deal with income inequality in ways that will enable people of all income levels to keep living in our state?”
Professor of Public Policy and Urban Planning Michael Stoll was cited in a U.S. News & World Report article about Americans’ migration patterns. A study by moving company United Van Lines found that the COVID-19 pandemic played a role in many people’s decisions to relocate, including concerns for personal and family health and well-being, a desire to be closer to family and changes in work arrangements. Idaho had the highest percentage of inbound migration, while New Jersey had the highest share of outbound moves, followed by New York, Illinois, Connecticut and California, the study found. “United Van Lines’ data makes it clear that migration to western and southern states, a prevalent pattern for the past several years, persisted in 2020,” Stoll said. “However, we’re seeing that the COVID-19 pandemic has without a doubt accelerated broader moving trends, including retirement driving top inbound regions as the Baby Boomer generation continues to reach that next phase of life.”
By Les Dunseith
A new longitudinal study of the geography of upward mobility in the United States shows that regions with high levels of income inequality have suffered from consistently low levels of intergenerational mobility over the last century.
In an article published today by the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, co-authors Dylan Connor of Arizona State University and Michael Storper of UCLA Luskin discuss findings that include:
- Individuals growing up in urbanized and industrialized regions — such as in the Northeast, Midwest and West — experienced higher levels of intergenerational social mobility in the early 20th century, although this advantage declined over time.
- People born in the South experienced consistently lower levels of social mobility throughout the 20th century.
- Regions with large Black populations that face income inequality have suffered from consistently lower levels of social mobility.
- An individual’s early childhood environment has gained increasing importance over time as a predictor of economic upward mobility in the country. In the early 20th century, for example, proximity to a city with employment opportunities in manufacturing was of greater importance than in today’s economy. Contemporary upward mobility is more likely to depend on educational success.
The authors analyzed location and income data from the U.S. Census for more than 1 million U.S.-born fathers and sons in 1920 and 1940, respectively, to measure regional social mobility in the early 20th century. They compared those findings with contemporary social mobility patterns derived from Internal Revenue Service data for 10 million children from the 1980–1982 birth cohorts and later observed from 2011–2012. Although the newer data capture the experiences of both males and females, the historical data only apply to males.
Why did the authors need to look back 100 years?
“The article’s central concern is intergenerational social mobility — meaning the probability that the children of one generation will or will not achieve a higher socioeconomic status than their parents,” said Storper, a professor of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. Although adult life may take place in a region different from one’s childhood, the region where a person starts life influences factors such as quality of schooling, social support structures and parental income.
“We have to know how the conditions of their childhood might have helped them be both geographically and socially mobile,” he said, “and whether geographical migrants are more socially mobile than stay-at-homes.”
Connor pointed out that understanding changes over time in intergenerational social mobility can provide a sense of how and where society needs to make improvements. Intergenerational change is a slow process, however, and the study needed to compare multiple waves of parents to their adult children at intervals that were 25 years apart.
“To get a sense of how things are changing across generations, we must take a long-term perspective,” said Connor, an assistant professor in Arizona State’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning.
In recent decades, the Northern Plains went from having one of the lowest rates to among the highest for intergenerational social mobility. One factor was a propensity for people born there to relocate as adults to other parts of the country for better work opportunities, often in sunnier locales such as California and other Western states.
But children born in the South had persistently lower levels of intergenerational social mobility, the study found. Among the factors is “the persistent way that race influences early childhood opportunities, probably by discouraging social consensus around investing in such things as schooling for all, and the way discrimination affects childhood and adult performance,” Storper said.
“This is what we call ‘deep roots’ — or persistent long-term structures impacting social mobility.”
Although many of the leading economic regions of the early 20th century weakened over time as springboards for intergenerational advancement, historical economic inequality within the regions with those deep roots, in contrast, exhibited a more consistent negative association. Correlating factors included high school dropout rates and income inequality.
The Black population share also showed statistical correlation, which the authors say shows the persistent impact of racial subordination, inequality and inadequate schooling on the U.S. landscape of opportunity.
“By social mobility, we are thinking about the degree of upward mobility within the American income/class structure for children who were born into poverty,” said Connor, who noted how the study relates directly to recent momentum around racial inequity and the Black Lives Matter movement. “One of the main concerns is that African American children are both more likely to be born into poverty and also face particularly high barriers to escaping poverty as adults — a point that is very strongly supported by our findings.”
A robust local labor market and access to quality schooling in early life were consistent factors in social mobility across generations and over time, according to the study. Because much of the South continues to lag other regions in terms of schooling and other social influences, major improvements in upward mobility have been slow to develop despite considerable growth in employment and economic output.
The authors also sought to identify and understand other long-term patterns across geographical regions.
“Some areas of the United States have witnessed significant declines in social mobility, while others have had persistently low levels all along. Thus, the contemporary national picture is shaped by both powerful forces of change that reduce intergenerational mobility in some regions and deeply entrenched long-term forces generating persistence in others,” they write in the journal.
Two specific cases stood out to the researchers when they compared data over time.
First, urban areas of the Midwest were comparable to the persistently high-income Northeast and West regions in the early 20th century, but intergenerational social mobility in the region was the third-lowest by century’s end, only slightly above the less urban areas of the South.
Second, the benefits of migration were higher for people leaving the Plains and Mountain regions, and the South to a lesser extent, than for their counterparts who left higher-income regions elsewhere.
“This intuitive pattern is consistent across the century and confirms the role of outmigration in providing a path to upward mobility for people growing up in lower-income places,” the authors wrote.
A conference highlighting the unique challenges of Central Americans who migrate to Mexico and the United States drew students, scholars and activists to UCLA Luskin to share knowledge and encourage more holistic and human portrayals of the refugees. The Jan. 30-31 conference featured panelists from the United States, Mexico and Guatemala, including UCLA faculty experts affiliated with the Latino Policy & Politics Initiative (LPPI), one of the event’s sponsors. Sociology Professor Cecilia Menjívar delivered opening and closing remarks at the multilingual, interdisciplinary conference. Chicana/o Studies Professor Leisy Abrego said critics of immigration reform who wonder why the United States should take responsibility for sheltering asylum seekers often fail to acknowledge that the U.S. incited much of the gang violence in Central America, specifically in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Amid negative rhetoric portraying Central Americans as criminals or helpless victims, she said, “we always erase, at least in the main discourse, the role of the United States in creating all of this.” Juan Herrera, assistant professor of geography, shared his personal experiences as a dark-skinned Latino in a community known for anti-indigenous sentiments to bring a human face to the economic, political and social struggles faced by Central American migrants. “[In] our current neoliberal economy, migrants are valued solely for their cheap labor without adequately perceiving them as human beings who construct social relationships,” he said. LPPI was one of several UCLA entities sponsoring the conference, including two student-run organizations, the Central American Isthmus Graduate Association and Union Centroamericana de UCLA. — Bryanna Ruiz and Amado Castillo
Assistant Professor of Urban Planning Liz Koslov spoke to The Daily Beast about “climate-change gentrification,” which occurs when the effects of climate change cause residents to relocate to another area, driving up property prices. In Los Angeles, Koslov said, people are likely to move only small distances due to climate change-related issues in order to stay near their social and professional networks. She noted that the complexity of climate change makes predicting where Americans will go extremely difficult. For example, some may try to escape extreme heat and find themselves in a flood zone. “Governments, policymakers and city planners are increasingly anticipating climate change in the projects that they take on and are building protective infrastructure or deciding not to fund the protection of certain areas,” Koslov said. “Their actions in anticipation of climate impacts and in response to disasters … have the potential to displace a lot of people or make places more habitable.”
Luskin Public Policy Professor Michael Stoll shed light on factors driving U.S. migration patterns reported in the latest National Movers Study published by United Van Lines. In 2018, Vermont, Idaho and Oregon were the top inbound states, and New Jersey, Illinois and Connecticut were the top outbound states, according to the study, which has been picked up by news sources across the country, including Newsweek, HousingWire and InvestorPlace. “Job growth, lower costs of living, state budgetary challenges and more temperate climates” help explain longer-term migration patterns to southern and western states, Stoll explained. He also commented on emerging migration trends. “Unlike a few decades ago, retirees are leaving California, instead choosing other states in the Pacific West and Mountain West,” he said. “We’re also seeing young professionals migrating to vibrant, metropolitan economies like Washington, D.C., and Seattle.” Moving and relocation company United Van Lines has tracked state-to-state migration for the past 42 years.
Join us on Friday, February 19, 2021 for trans/BORDER/ing: The Aesthetics of Disturbance and Undocumentary Flight, a panel discussion presented by EDT 2.0, the Winter 2021 Virtual Residents at the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy.
- Amy Sara Carroll, Associate Professor of Literature & Writing, UCSD
- Ricardo Dominguez, Associate Professor of Visual Arts & Principal Investigator at CALIT2/QI, UCSD
- SA Smythe, Assistant Professor of Gender Studies & African American Studies, UCLA
- Maurice Stierl, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, University of Warwick, UK
- Maite Zubiaurre, Professor of European Languages & Transcultural Studies (ELTS), Spanish and Portuguese, Digital Humanities, and Urban Humanities, UCLA
Moderated by Veronika Zablotsky, Sawyer Seminar Postdoctoral Fellow, UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality & Democracy
As thousands of asylum seekers and migrants are forced into lethal crossings as a result of post-1994 “prevention through deterrence” strategies in the ever expanding U.S.-Mexican borderlands each year, the pan-Mediterranean Sea in the early twenty-first century has been reinvented as one of the globe’s deadliest border regions of impeded passage. This convening compares and contrasts these two distinct literal and imaginary necropolitical zones. Activist scholars and artivists on both sides of the Atlantic will reflect on strategies of disturbance and resistance in place to assist border crossers. Decentering aid narratives and regimes of visualization that support surveillance and capture, the goal will be generative transdisciplinary dialogue on flight facilitation, “undocumentary” aesthetics, and the ethics of witnessing after humanitarianism/s.