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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee spoke to ABC News about the risk of underrepresentation of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in the 2020 census. Government attempts to count smaller populations of ethnic minorities, including Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, in the United States have historically been inaccurate because of unwillingness or inability to participate in the census. Profound distrust of the government and language barriers have also contributed to inaccurate census results. Experts worry that the added challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic may exacerbate inaccuracies in the 2020 census, which could result in small ethnic minorities being denied public funds and resources. “I’ve seen most clearly in the last two to three months the vital importance of as accurate as possible population counts, especially for small populations like NHPI,” Akee said. “Because without that, it may potentially throw off our public health figures.”
Brian Taylor, professor of urban planning and public policy and director of UCLA’s Institute of Transportation Studies, was featured in a CityLab article about the post-pandemic future of public transit. Taylor explained that bus and rail ridership tends to be more sensitive to economic changes than other modes, and the financial effects of coronavirus are poised to stretch long into the future. Passengers will inevitably return in dense cities, such as New York City and San Francisco, where transit is critical for thriving urban economies to function, he said. However, he predicted that some would-be passengers are likely to continue to work remotely even after restrictions are lifted, and others may instead choose to drive or bike. U.S. ridership has been in decline since 2014, and Taylor’s research has found that the largest drops in ridership have come from groups that were traditionally the heaviest, most economically dependent users of transit, such as low-income immigrants.
A new Politico article included comments from Sonja Diaz, director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, about the financial impact the pandemic is having on racial minorities and renters. Congressional relief has allowed homeowners to delay payments on federally guaranteed mortgages, but renters are much more vulnerable. Struggling tenants whose jobs have been wiped out and are unable to keep up on rent will face eviction as well as a major hit to their credit scores, hurting their ability to build wealth for years to come. “Latinos were the hardest hit of any racial ethnic group in terms of wealth loss during the Great Recession,” Diaz said. “Over the course of the last five years, Latinos have had targeted increases in their share of homeownership in the United States and in fact have been instrumental in increasing the national share of homeownership, [but] any recession associated with the coronavirus threatens that.”
Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap spoke to NBC News about accusations that police have targeted minorities more than white protesters for social distancing violations. For example, demonstrators outside the Otay Mesa Detention Facility on April 11, who were protesting conditions faced by detained immigrants, received citations for violating stay-at-home orders and “unlawful use of horn.” However, no citations or arrests were reported at predominantly white beach protests a week later in Encinitas and San Diego. Authorities in San Diego and Los Angeles have enforced stay-at-home orders by issuing a few citations to protest organizers after the agencies were criticized for allegedly unequal enforcement, the report said. According to Leap, the LAPD has shown restraint in its enforcement of social distancing regulations. “The community itself is enforcing stay-at-home,” she said. “The LAPD, thankfully, they have been working with communities, especially communities of color.”
Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris and Professor Emeritus Martin Wachs are featured in an American Planning Association article along with co-author Miriam Pinski discussing their research article, “Toward a Richer Picture of the Mobility Needs of Older Americans.” The authors point out that “commonly used data sources on mobility provide high-level insights but fail to provide much detail about the travel experiences of older adults.” After conducting interviews, focus groups and walking audits with a group of 81 older adults in the Westlake neighborhood of Los Angeles, the authors found that many have concerns including fear of crime, heavy traffic and speeding vehicles, and discomfort on crowded or littered streets. The authors recommended government action, including sidewalk repairs and increasing walk time at crosswalks, to better meet the mobility needs of aging adults, particularly those from low-income and minority communities. Their research also has implications for transit accessibility broadly, particularly for people with disabilities.