Manuel Pastor on Building a More Equitable Los Angeles |
Connect with us

Latest News

Manuel Pastor on Building a More Equitable Los Angeles

A new report attacks L.A.’s systemic racism and lays out a roadmap for transformation centered in racial equality.

Avatar

Published

 

on

Children attending an event at the Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA. (Photo: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for YMCA)

Manuel Pastor, director of the University of Southern California’s Equity Research Institute, spoke to Capital & Main about a new report he co-authored with Gary Segura of the University of California, Los Angeles’ Luskin School of Public Affairs. No Going Back: Together for an Equitable and Inclusive Los Angeles, produced in partnership with the Committee for Greater L.A., presents overwhelming evidence of structural racism, vividly highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic — along with a bold platform for change to advance racial justice in the Los Angeles region. Rooted in new data and analyses, the report attacks systemic racism at the root and lays out a roadmap for transformation centered in racial equity. The interview was edited for length and clarity.


 
Capital & Main: It sounds as though you were already working on this report before the pandemic hit.

Manuel Pastor: We’ve been looking at issues of structural racism and inequality in the economy and society in Los Angeles for a very long time. It was very obvious to me, from about a week into this pandemic, that COVID was the disease that reflects all our other illnesses — our illness of employment precarity; our illness of insecure legal status; our illness of the lack of assets and wealth on the part of Black and Latino families, which means that they would be most vulnerable to the crisis; the lack of access to health care; over-incarceration — which meant that a lot of people would be in difficult congregant settings. We [knew] before the data came out that COVID was going to hit Black and Latino and other communities of color the hardest.
 


Black and Latino workers have been caught by the twin scissors of higher health risk and higher unemployment risk — basically the worst of both economic worlds going on at the same time.”


 
You mention that the majority of high risk jobs are primarily held by Latinos and other people of color in Los Angeles.

I’ll explain it in a slightly different way to get to the same point. Black workers, Latino workers, and immigrant Pacific Islander workers are overindexed, meaning they have a much higher share than white workers in what’s called essential work that’s also high risk.

Essential work is like being a truck driver, grocery store clerk, meat packer, agricultural worker or health care worker. Those are jobs that have persisted, but if you’re going to [work in] them, there is a health risk when you’re there.

Interestingly, those groups, particularly Black and Latino workers, are also overindexed in what’s called nonessential jobs – those are jobs like hospitality and restaurants — where there’s a lot of contact with people, but they were shut down and they’ve been subject to the stop and start pattern that’s been how we’ve kind of reopened and reclosed our economy. And what that means is that these workers have been caught by the twin scissors of higher health risk and higher unemployment risk. So it’s basically the worst of both economic worlds going on at the same time, particularly for Black and Latino workers.
 


“It’s important to realize that a lot of undocumented folks have no access to unemployment insurance, pandemic unemployment insurance or those federal relief checks.”


 
Evictions often follow layoffs. What does the report say about preventing this cascade of loss from ensuing, besides the few things that have been done by the state thus far?

There’s new legislation [for] renters [who] are paying 25 percent of their rent between now and the end of January — they will not be evicted. The problem with that is that that 75 percent [of their rent] that they aren’t paying will come due in January. And one of the things that’s really important to realize is that in the United States as a whole, white families have about 10 times the median net worth of Black and Latino families. But that figure is like a 100 times in Los Angeles. We’ve got a super big gap in terms of net assets, net wealth. Very, very low for Black and Latino families. Higher, much higher, for white families. What that means is that people did not have a cushion when this hit in order to keep paying their rent or making their expenses. And that’s one of the reasons why the pandemic unemployment assistance was so important.

It’s important to realize that a lot of undocumented folks have no access to unemployment insurance, pandemic unemployment insurance or those federal relief checks. Indeed, those federal relief checks – if you’re in a family where one person was undocumented and you filed jointly with someone who had a Social Security number or was a U.S. citizen or with permission to work – that entire family unit, including their children, was frozen out of receiving the federal relief checks.

The other thing that I want to point out is that the report does try to address that while there are some very big corporate landowners who can absorb people not paying their rent, there are also a lot of small landowners who own one or two properties, and they may themselves be people of color, immigrants, etc., who have put their life savings into these properties that they are renting [out]. So, it’s important to recognize that we need to be able to, particularly for the small landowners, to make them whole if their [renters] can’t pay.
 


About 13% of white kids are on the wrong side of the digital divide. But about 37% of Black kids and almost 40% of Latino kids
are on the wrong side.


 
You also mention those 18 percent of children who are in homes with undocumented parents or household members that prevent them from benefiting from any federal aid. I thought of how homeless kids were able to go to school before, even while homeless – especially if in a shelter — but now they will have no such option if all classrooms are remote and only accessible online. To attend school now means to have Internet access and a computer. How do we get that to happen quickly?

One of the most striking statistics in the report is that, when the crisis broke and kids went home, we calculated for kids who were K-12, who are under the age of 18, did they have in their household both a computer or laptop and high speed Internet? That combination [determines if] you are on the right side of the digital divide. About 13 percent of white kids were on the wrong side of the digital divide. But about 37 percent of Black kids and almost 40 percent of Latino kids were on the wrong side. Providing people with hot spots and Chromebooks is not the same as actually giving them a full-fledged laptop. And one of the important things to realize is that many of these kids also went home to very overcrowded housing conditions, and their homes are very limited with space to work.

Internet equity is not just a question of having cable lines in your neighborhood. There’s plenty of high speed access in South L.A. People don’t have the money to pay for it. They don’t have the computers or laptops that are necessary. And the parents may not have the training to be able to provide assistance to their kids who are doing their homework.
 


“The governor stepped up with a relief program for undocumented Californians. There was $125 million — $75 million coming from the state, $50 million coming from philanthropy.
But it’s inadequate for the need”


 
Can you talk a little bit about that idea of what you call California Citizenship?

Well, you know one of the things I think is a misperception amongst most people, including probably the informed public who read Capital & Main, is that undocumented immigrants are recently arrived and lightly attached [to society]. That’s not the case. The number of undocumented immigrants in the United States has been falling since 2007. Partly because of the Trump administration, but primarily because of push factors on the Mexican side. About 70 percent of undocumented immigrants in L.A. County have been here for a decade or longer. These are folks deeply enmeshed in our businesses, our communities and certainly in those families as we’ve seen. [Yet] an undocumented worker paying taxes into California is not eligible for the [federal] earned income tax credit, which is supposed to help the poor and support their children.

We’ve got to stop all that, and we’ve got to make sure that every benefit we’ve got in the state is open to all Californians. It will be good for the economy, it’ll be good for our children, and in the long run, we are going to get comprehensive immigration reform.

Instead of the piecemeal efforts like making drivers licenses available, could there be a comprehensive bill that would be inclusive for all benefits?

I think it’s been pursued legislatively in a variety of little moves, like the driver license or the Trust Act or the California Values Act, etc. And I think it’s something that the state is clearly ready to embrace. But it needs to be put together into a comprehensive package, probably legislative, and partly the governor, to move forward. You know the governor did step up with a California relief program for undocumented Californians. There was $125 million — $75 million coming from the state, $50 million coming from philanthropy. But it’s inadequate for the need.

Can you give us a little more background on who makes up the Committee for Greater L.A.?

The Committee for Greater L.A. was put together by Miguel Santana and Fred Ali. Fred is the president of the Weingart Foundation. And there were like six foundations that helped to fund this report. Fred reached out to me and Gary Segura from UCLA. It included some important community leaders, including the head of the county office of education, representatives from the Board of Supervisors, the mayor’s office, immigrant rights activists, etc.

This committee was initially envisioned as helping to inform recovery in L.A. But we quickly realized that we don’t want to recover to a normal that wasn’t working for most people and that essentially reflected the kind of structural racism and economic vulnerability that left so many so susceptible to the worst effects of the COVID crisis on both the health level and economic level.

So there’s no going back to where we were before, there is only going forward to a place where we’ve never been — an inclusive and equitable Los Angeles.


Copyright 2020 Capital & Main

Top Stories