Report Highlights Pandemic’s Racial Disparities

A San Diego Union-Tribune article cited a report by the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy and Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK) that highlighted the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Latinos and other minorities in California. Latinos account for nearly half of the San Diego County residents infected by COVID-19 in the past year, but only 1 in 5 people vaccinated so far are Latino. CNK Director Paul Ong authored the report, which found that “Blacks and Latinos in California were more than twice as likely to have trouble making monthly rent payments than white people.” The report also pointed out that 23% of those who could not pay rent in the initial months of the pandemic were Black and 20% were Latino. “These systematic racial or ethno-racial disparities are the product of systemic inequality,” Ong wrote. “People of color, low-income individuals, and those with less education and skills are most at risk.”

Diaz on Ensuring Equitable Distribution of COVID-19 Vaccines

Director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative Sonja Diaz was featured in the Sacramento Bee, CNN and the San Francisco Chronicle discussing the importance of prioritizing Latino and other disadvantaged communities’ access to vaccines. Gov. Gavin Newsom has announced a new plan to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines reach California’s most disadvantaged communities by targeting neighborhoods in the bottom quartile of the “Healthy Places Index.” Diaz explained that minority communities have been hit the hardest by the pandemic and that California has a responsibility to get them help first and fast. “Communities of color are keeping the economy afloat, and prioritizing them is not only the right thing to do, but an economic imperative,” she said. “The state’s new approach is the right step to stop the bleeding and affirm that Californians of color are not collateral damage but the catalysts to recovery.”

Dominguez-Villegas on Prioritizing Vaccination of Latinos

Rodrigo Dominguez-Villegas, director of research at the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI) at UCLA Luskin, was featured in a Univision video discussing a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom about the importance of prioritizing the vaccination of Latino residents. Sent by LPPI and Latino leaders from across California, the letter is “a call to action for the governor, his administration and state leaders to increase the investment of resources and necessary information so that the vaccines get to Latino communities,” Dominguez-Villegas said. Despite making up the majority of the essential workforce and suffering a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in California, people of color are not receiving equitable access to vaccines, he said. “This is why we wrote the letter and called on Latino leaders to get the governor’s attention,” he explained, adding that the letter was signed by more than 60 leaders who are important in the Latino community.

Study Examines Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Small Businesses in L.A.’s Ethnic Neighborhoods

The UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK), in collaboration with Ong & Associates, recently released a new report on COVID-19 pandemic impacts on minority-owned businesses in Los Angeles. Previous CNK studies have documented the disproportionate adverse impacts of the pandemic on marginalized neighborhoods in labor and housing markets. The new report focuses on small businesses and examines whether the COVID-19 crisis disproportionately impacted local businesses in ethnic neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Answers to this question provide academic insights on racial systemic inequality and inform policy interventions, according to Paul Ong, co-author of the report and CNK director.  “If the disparities are significant, there are profound policy implications. Race-conscious government efforts to address systemic racism are needed to ensure an equitable economic recovery,” the researchers said. The team used location data to analyze foot traffic patterns to restaurants and retail locations in ethnic and comparison neighborhoods from February through September 2020. The results indicate an earlier and steeper decline in commercial activity in Chinatown and, while retail was resilient in ethnic neighborhoods, restaurants suffered greater declines on average than in comparison neighborhoods. Ong and colleagues found that overall, the ethnic neighborhoods collectively performed worse than the county as a whole prior to lockdown and performed no better than the county under shelter-in-place orders. The project was partially supported with grants from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs (funded by Southern California Grantmakers) and from the UCLA Asian American Studies Center (funded by the Stanley Kow Lau and Dora Wong Lau Endowment).


Ong Foresees Rippling Effect of Census Undercount

Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, spoke to USA Today about low response rates to the census in low-income and minority neighborhoods. The COVID-19 pandemic, lack of internet access and a timeline that was shortened by the U.S. Census Bureau have made it more difficult to get accurate population counts in hard-to-reach neighborhoods. “My biggest fear, and my estimate, is that we’re headed towards an extremely flawed census,” Ong said. While the Census Bureau has assured that it will be able to close the gap on undercounted populations, Ong said he would like to see evidence that confirms the reliability of these efforts. Census results are used to distribute congressional seats and federal funding, so undercounting can take a significant toll on a community. “The large and growing racial and income differences have a rippling effect downstream for other operations, creating more challenges and hurdles,” Ong concluded.

Diaz on Re-Envisioning a Post-Coronavirus America

In a Q&A with Governing, Latino Policy and Politics Initiative Executive Director Sonja Diaz weighed in on the links between systemic racism and immigration policy and set out a vision for a more equitable post-pandemic society. COVID-19, police violence against people of color and persistent economic inequality have created an existential crisis in the United States, and “incremental change is not going to solve anything,” Diaz said. “We cannot go back to a ‘normal’ with so many Americans living on the streets, so many Americans without health insurance, so many Americans being targeted or racially profiled by our police. We have to re-envision what a post-coronavirus America looks like,” she said. Diaz also co-authored an opinion piece for Morning Consult that decried efforts to disenfranchise voters of color and called on Congress to act decisively to protect the integrity of the 2020 Census.

Battling Injustice With Transparency, Democracy

Research by the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK) at UCLA Luskin continues to shape conversations about justice and equity during the COVID-19 pandemic. The center’s director, Research Professor Paul Ong, shared insights on the multifaceted “web of inequality” underlying systemic racism during a webinar hosted by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and covered by the Los Angeles Sentinel and Daily News. “If you think about the fight against racism as a war, you need to understand in greater detail the enemy,” Ong said. His center’s work aims to provide that information “so that we can understand the magnitude of the problems, the patterns of the problems, the trajectory of the problems,” he said. “I think transparency along with democracy is the very critical thing to make sure that institutional changes are implemented.” Recent CNK research has measured the severe economic impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, cited by NBC News and the Washington Post, and investigated the challenges in conducting a fair 2020 Census count, cited by the Los Angeles Times and ABC News Radio.

Tilly on Challenges Facing Minority Business Owners

Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly was featured in a Wave Newspapers article on providing support to minority businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even after the federal government launched programs to provide low-interest loans to small businesses during the pandemic, confusing documentation and inflexible standards have made obtaining loans a burden for many entrepreneurs, especially those who don’t speak English as a first language. “A major difficulty non-native speakers encounter in filing for a federal loan is in deciphering the technical financial language required to fill out the necessary paperwork,” Tilly explained. “If English is a second language for you, there’s all kinds of unfamiliar words, idiomatic usages and financial terms that might be understandable to the average English speaker but baffling to a person who is still learning English or using Google to make sense of the form.” The article noted that nonprofit organizations are stepping in to guide entrepreneurs through the complexities of accessing loans.

Park Studies Effects of Global Warming on Student Learning

Assistant Professor of Public Policy Jisung Park discussed the effect of warming global temperatures on student learning in an NPR interview. Park and his colleagues analyzed data from 10 million U.S. students over 15 years to explore the relationship between climate change and student academic performance. Park found that “students who experience a hotter than average year —  let’s say a year with five more school days above 90 degrees Fahrenheit — appeared to experience reduced learning.” A one-degree-Fahrenheit increase in average temperature in a given year reduces learning on average by around 1%,  he said. But his research showed that the same temperature change disproportionately impacts underrepresented minorities by closer to 2% or 3%. Park added that infrastructure affects student academic performance, explaining that “the effect of heat on learning is much smaller in schools that report having adequate air conditioning.”

Umemoto on Translating COVID-19 Information

In an Ed Scoop article, Karen Umemoto, urban planning professor and director of the Asian American Studies Center at UCLA, discussed the importance of translating public health information and recommendations into several languages. UCLA has launched a website with health and safety recommendations related to the COVID-19 pandemic translated into more than 40 languages. The website will help inform the many communities that lack access to official news, public health information and safety recommendations in a language other than English, Umemoto said. According to U.S. Census data, more than 50% of people in the Greater Los Angeles area do not speak English at home. “Los Angeles is home to a critical mass of many non-English-speaking communities, including Asian and Pacific Islander,” Umemoto said. During a pandemic, households representing racial minorities often face a disproportionate burden of illness and death.