Student Debt Is a Policy Failure, Appel Says

In a recent Marketplace interview, Hannah Appel, associate faculty director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, said that “canceling student debt is the quickest way to narrow the racial wealth gap.” The Department of Education announced a plan to change the federal student loan system to make it easier for lower-income student loan borrowers to have their debt forgiven, prompting discussions about canceling all student loan debt. The vast majority of student loans are “simply uncollectable,” Appel said, adding that the impact of student loan debt falls disproportionately on people of color. She explained that student loan debt is unique because it’s held 95%-plus by the federal government. “We’ve seen the most progress and we’ve been able to build the most power around student debt, because it plainly is a policy failure for which we can hold the government accountable, and they can reverse course,” she said.

Pandemic Perpetuates Economic Inequality, Ong Finds

UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge Director Paul Ong spoke to USA Today about the impact of the pandemic on economic mobility and prosperity, particularly within communities of color. According to data from the Census Bureau, economic prospects improved for Americans across racial and ethnic demographics in the second half of the 2010s, but the pandemic halted much of that progress. Economic gains were not spread equally among income classes, and significant financial gaps still exist. “I think overall the economy became much more unequal in terms of, after you account for the business cycle, the distribution of earnings,” Ong said. “So, you have that counterforce working and quite often that increase in inequality takes on a racial dimension.” He also pointed out that the unemployment rate increased for all demographic groups during the pandemic, but the steepest increase in joblessness was experienced by Black and Hispanic workers.

Ong on Nuances of U.S. Census Count

Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Associated Press about the U.S. Census Bureau’s report that the nation’s Asian population was overcounted by 2.6% in 2020. Overcounts occur when people are counted twice, such as college students being counted on campus and at their parents’ homes. Another explanation is that biracial and multiracial residents may have identified as Asian in larger numbers than in the past. Some multiracial people who previously indicated on the census form that they were white, Black or another race may have selected Asian in 2020 amid a rise in anti-Asian attacks during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ong said. “When that happens, people who are multiracial go in two directions: They reject their minority identity or they embrace it,” he said. “With the rise of anti-Asian hostility, it forced some multiracial Asians to select a single identity.”

Report Highlights COVID’s Impact on Higher Education Goals

Inside Higher Ed and Axios highlighted the findings of a policy report from the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative about the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black and Latino students. According to the report, Black and Latino students were more likely than others to cancel or postpone their higher education plans during the COVID-19 pandemic. This trend persisted even after vaccines were made widely available. “Higher education attainment is an important pathway to social and economic mobility and has cascading effects across a person’s lifespan,” explained  Rodrigo Dominguez-Villegas, the initiative’s director of research. “Given Latinos’ position as the future workforce of America, addressing this disparity is critical to the prosperity of our nation.”

Report Highlights ‘Atmosphere of Fear’ for Asian American Employees

A KQED article featured new research from the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge on the rising incidence of anti-Asian hate crimes. The center collaborated with the California-based coalition Stop AAPI Hate to produce a report based on the findings of a national survey of Asian American and Pacific Islander employees. Those surveyed reported alarmingly high rates of hate incidents at their jobs, in addition to an overwhelming fear of being targeted at work. More than a quarter of the respondents said they experienced a hate incident at work in 2021, and more than 20% said they are reluctant to return to in-person work because they’re afraid they will be racially targeted. “It creates an atmosphere of fear when you go to work and you’re uncertain about what’s going to happen that day because you happen to be Asian American,” said Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge and a co-author of the report.

Campus Police Presence Not Healthy for Development, Astor Says

Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor was mentioned in a Southern California News Group article about the controversial presence of armed officers on school campuses. Many school districts in Southern California have armed officers on their campuses despite opposition from parents and students. In September, 18-year-old Mona Rodriguez was fatally shot by a school safety officer in an off-campus parking lot in Long Beach. In that school district, non-sworn officers are able to carry guns, batons and pepper spray but do not have arrest powers. Other school districts have their own police departments or have contracts with police and sheriff departments. According to Astor, a heavy police presence can adversely impact the school climate. “Very heavily armed schools prime the kids in those schools to think of the place more like a prison,” Astor explained. “Militarizing and turning schools into things that look like prisons is not healthy for development. It’s not healthy for identity.”

Umemoto on Acknowledging Painful History

Urban Planning Professor Karen Umemoto spoke to NBC News about the importance of facilitating discussions about racial tensions to incorporate the histories of communities that have long been made invisible. In 1871, about 20 Chinese Americans were murdered in a race riot in Los Angeles, now regarded by many as a forgotten history. Umemoto said that we can be critical of the things that have taken place in history without necessarily blaming the ancestors of those who may have perpetrated injustices. “Remembering both the accomplishments and achievements of different groups in society is as important as remembering the tragedies,” said Umemoto, director of UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center. In ethnic studies, Umemoto aims to “teach about the full lives of people of color in this country and Indigenous peoples in this country so that we could develop that historical empathy for one another.”

Lens Explores Low-Density Zoning Impact on Health

Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy Michael Lens published a policy brief in Health Affairs on the downstream effects of low-density residential zoning on health and health equity. Previous research on the relationship between housing and health has identified four important pathways for health equity: housing stability, housing quality and safety, neighborhood characteristics and affordability. While residential zoning ordinances are designed to address density-related concerns such as traffic and environmental harms, Lens explained that “the effect is often to artificially raise the cost of housing for everyone by limiting housing supply, as well as to exclude people who cannot afford to buy single-family homes on large lots.” As a result, low-density zoning practices have exacerbated segregation by income and race. “Safer and healthier neighborhoods tend to have the most restrictive zoning, pricing people out of those areas and increasing segregation and affordability problems,” Lens said. He acknowledged that zoning reform alone cannot fix disparities in housing or health; sufficient housing subsidy programs are crucial, as well as an increase in new housing developments that are required to set aside some units for lower-income households. “The downstream effects of exclusionary land use regulations on health should make scholars and policymakers pay more attention to reforming zoning and expanding housing subsidy programs to make housing more plentiful and affordable,” Lens wrote. Even if increasing density in more neighborhoods does not have an immediate effect on housing affordability, segregation or health, Lens argued that it is a necessary step toward a healthy and sustainable future.

Gilens, Ong on Forces Undermining a Just Economic Recovery

UCLA Luskin’s Martin Gilens and Paul Ong shared insights on economic and political inequality and opportunity as part of a panel organized by the UCLA Anderson Forecast, a quarterly report that frames the economic outlook for California and the nation. Released Sept. 29, the latest report identified a shift from earlier forecasts, which had raised hopes for a blockbuster recovery as COVID-19 vaccines became widely available. Heading into the final quarter of 2021, these hopes have been tempered by the spread of the Delta variant and stagnating vaccination rates, which in turn have led to consumer caution. A panel of experts hosted by the Anderson Forecast brought context to these findings, with a focus on how income is distributed unevenly across the United States. Gilens, chair of UCLA Luskin Public Policy, said political and economic inequality are intertwined, resulting in policies that cater to moneyed interests. “Taming the role of money in American politics won’t be easy, especially with an unsympathetic Supreme Court, and … won’t by itself fix everything that ails our democracy,” Gilens said. “But it’s hard to see how we can fix American democracy without reducing the dominance of money in our politics.” Ong, director of UCLA’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, focused on race and ethnicity as factors in the job, food, housing and educational insecurity that persists across generations. “I would encourage my colleagues to think much more explicitly about the fundamentals of why race and racism exist within an economy,” he said. “Simply saying that everybody should have equal opportunity doesn’t make it so.” 

View the Anderson Forecast presentation, including a keynote address by Mary C. Daly, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.


Terriquez on Understanding White Privilege

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Veronica Terriquez co-authored an article in the Conversation explaining what white privilege is and why understanding the concept is important. White privilege is both the obvious and hidden advantages afforded to white people by systemic forms of racial injustice, the authors wrote. The police killing of George Floyd in 2021 ignited a wave of protests across the globe and intense discussions of anti-Black racism, including the concept of white privilege. The authors noted that “unpacking how whiteness operates to bestow privilege may allow us to understand how ‘others’ are systematically denied those same rights.” Critics have argued that “white privilege” is a term that “reinforces stereotypes, reifies conceptualisations of race, antagonises potential allies and creates even greater resistance to change.” However, Terriquez and her co-authors described the term as an important tool for advocacy to critique systemic racism and global anti-Blackness.