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Urban Planning Faculty Spearhead Mass Incarceration Archive Project

Urban Planning Professors Kelly Lytle Hernández and Karen Umemoto as well as incoming Urban Planning Assistant Professor Marques Vestal are collaborating on a new initiative to create an archive on policing and mass incarceration in Los Angeles. The project, called “Archiving the Age of Mass Incarceration,” aims to collect, digitize and preserve a sustainable archive of data, testimonies, artifacts and police files for the next generation of research on racial and social justice. “The new platform will catapult our centers into the digital future in knowledge-sharing and knowledge production,” said Umemoto, director of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center. The archive will build off the work of the UCLA-based Million Dollar Hoods research project, a community-driven initiative that began in 2016 to quantify the fiscal and human cost of mass incarceration in Los Angeles. Scholars from UCLA ethnic studies centers and the Million Dollar Hoods project will train UCLA students to work with the digital archives. “This new collaboration between Million Dollar Hoods and UCLA’s ethnic studies centers will preserve the documentary evidence of mass incarceration and its impact on people’s lives in Los Angeles while building a new digital bedrock for racial justice scholars and scholarship at UCLA,” said Lytle Hernández, director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies. The project will encompass research across several communities of color, highlighting ways in which they are disproportionately affected by mass incarceration. “Archiving the Age of Mass Incarceration” is made possible by funding from a three-year, $3.65 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

‘It’s Not a Food Desert, It’s Food Apartheid,’ Wolff Says

Urban Planning lecturer Goetz Wolff joined a panel of activists and scholars to discuss injustice in the food system during a UCLA Semel Healthy Campus Initiative webinar. Black, poor and marginalized communities have been systematically denied access to nutritious foods, contributing to health inequities. Farmer and activist Karen Washington described the food system as “a caste system based on race, color of skin, where one lives and how much money they have” and argued that “it doesn’t need to be fixed, it needs to change.” Chef Roy Choi highlighted the importance of starting a conversation about the established power structure in order to get to the root of the problem. Wolff argued that the condition under which poor communities are left out is the result of conscious policies and that “food desert” is a characterization that asks us to accept it as a natural process. “It’s not a food desert, it’s food apartheid,” he said.


Clean Energy Transition Should Benefit Communities of Color, Callahan Says

Colleen Callahan, deputy director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to Health about how to address environmental racism. “Race matters in the distribution of environmental hazards, dirty air, and polluted soil and water,” Callahan said. Communities of color are more likely to be burdened with environmental hazards, such as toxic waste and industrial pollution, that put residents at greater risk of illness and negative health outcomes, she said. They also experience fewer positive environmental benefits, such as quality parks, compared with white communities, she added. According to Callahan, it is not enough for environmental policies to be race neutral. “Communities of color and low-income households disproportionately harmed by pollution from our fossil-fueled economy should also disproportionately benefit from the transition to a clean economy,” she said. “Health disparities, education disparities, economic disparities and more are linked to where we live — our environment.”


Race, Place of Birth Are Key Factors in Americans’ Upward Mobility Children are less likely to earn more than their parents as adults if they are Black or grow up in the South, according to a new study

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.

Park on Cumulative Effect of Heat on Learning

R. Jisung Park, associate director of economic research at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to KJZZ’s The Show about his research into the link between hotter temperatures and the racial achievement gap in U.S. schools. Park’s study, which measured the impact of heat exposure on reduced learning, found that the negative effect of heat is more pronounced in school districts serving underrepresented minorities. “Over time, if you experience more hot days during the school year, and especially if you go to school in an area that doesn’t appear to have adequate school facilities, for whatever reason, those small cuts do seem to add up in a way that actually ends up being measurable in your standardized achievement,” said Park, an assistant professor of public policy. “To the extent that education is such an important component of economic mobility, one would be concerned about the cumulative nature of these cuts.”

Roy on the Intersection of Scholarship and Activism

Professor of Social Welfare and Urban Planning Ananya Roy was featured on a Quarantine Tapes podcast episode exploring the shared struggles of scholars and activists. Roy’s research focuses on the relationship between property, personhood and the police, as well as the ways in which inequality and power fixate in space. Roy, director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, explained how universities as elite institutions continue to reproduce racial harm and discussed her recent experiences calling for UCLA to divest from the police. “We’ve become very good at gestures,” she said. “We’re not very good at actually nurturing students and faculty who come from the communities most impacted by racial harm.” She argued that “we must challenge the university as an institution if we are to produce scholarship to accompany movements,” emphasizing the importance of journeying with and learning from the movements and communities on the front lines in a shared space of scholarship.


Keum on Speaking With Children About Race in America

Brian Keum, assistant professor of social welfare, spoke to CEOMOM magazine for an article advising parents on how to discuss race and social justice with their children. Young people will inevitably be exposed to the violence, hate crimes and tragedies that dominate both the news and social media. “If parents aren’t able to meet eye-to-eye with their children about their online racial experiences, it may create a disconnect,” Keum said. He urged parents to remain vigilant about the platforms their children use. “Parents should have an ongoing dialogue with their children about their experiences on social media, and they should develop their own digital media literacy by engaging with a variety of platforms and apps, researching hate speech policies and moderation related to those platforms and apps, and surveying potential racism and racial experiences their children may be exposed to on them,” Keum said.

Zepeda-Millán Publishes ‘Walls, Cages, and Family Separation’

Walls, Cages, and Family Separation: Race and Immigration Policy in the Trump Era,” a new book co-authored by Associate Professor of Public Policy Chris Zepeda-Millán and University of Washington Associate Professor Sophia Jordan Wallace, takes a closer look at the evolution of U.S. immigration policy leading up to and during the presidency of Donald Trump. Published by Cambridge University Press, “Walls, Cages, and Family Separation” examines the “deeply racist roots” of U.S. immigration policy, which have been exacerbated by the Trump administration’s racially charged rhetoric and policies, including the border wall, migrant family separation and child detention measures. Zepeda-Millán and Wallace point to Trump as the “most blatantly anti-Latino and anti-immigrant president in modern American history” and examine the factors motivating his support base. Their research shows that resentment and fear among whites who feel culturally threatened by Latinos motivates them to support Trump’s immigration policies. They examine how support for immigrant detention and the wall has shifted over the duration of Trump’s presidency, as well as the stereotypes and misinformation that play a role in public perception of immigrants and immigration policy. While Trump’s immigration policies have been widely criticized and are unpopular with many Americans, Zepeda-Millán and Wallace argue that Trump is relying on his ability to “politically mobilize the most racially conservative segment of whites who back his draconian immigration enforcement measures” in his bid for reelection. “Walls, Cages, and Family Separation” is Zepeda-Millán’s second book, following his first release, “Latino Mass Mobilization: Immigration, Racialization, and Activism.”


Park on New Research on Heat, Learning and the Racial Gap

The New York Times spoke to R. Jisung Park,, associate director of economic research at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, about new research showing that hotter temperatures widen the racial achievement gap in U.S. schools. Park’s study found that students performed worse on standardized tests for every additional day of 80 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, suggesting a fundamental link between heat exposure and reduced learning. While those detrimental effects were observed across 58 countries, the U.S. data revealed a surprisingly pronounced effect on Black and Hispanic students, the study found. Park, an assistant professor of public policy, said the gap seemed to reflect the fact that minority students are less likely to have air-conditioning at school and at home. Being exposed to higher temperatures throughout the school year appears to take a cumulative toll, he said. “It’s like a thousand little cuts to your ability to focus and concentrate and learn,” Park said.

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