For many Blacks and Latinos in L.A., neighborhood conditions make safer-at-home orders harder

More than 2 in 5 Blacks and Latinos in Los Angeles County face high burdens from the county’s shelter-in-place rules because they live in densely populated communities with restricted access to open spaces and limited access to food, according to a new UCLA policy report (PDF).

The report, by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge and Ong & Associates, is intended to support policies and programs that address inequities facing those in neighborhoods where compliance with safer-at-home orders is difficult and to provide guidance for public officials as California emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The shelter-in-place guidelines are a necessary public health measure to reduce COVID-19 cases through physical distancing, but not all neighborhoods are set up to support and encourage residents to stay safely at home,” said Sonja Diaz, an author of the report and the founding director of the policy initiative. “We know that no Angeleno is safe until we are all safe, and that requires paying special attention to the needs of the most vulnerable communities.”

Researchers used three criteria to determine the burden on neighborhoods from safer-at-home restrictions: population density, the availability of public park space and the relative number of households without access to a nearby supermarket. The results fell into three categories: areas with high, middle and low burdens.

The report found that 12 of the 15 most burdened communities are concentrated in South Los Angeles, while the 15 least affected areas are dispersed across the county’s more affluent coastal and mountain regions.

UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative/UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge/Ong & Associates
Twelve of the 15 most burdened communities (red) are concentrated in South Los Angeles; the least affected areas (blue) tend to be in the county’s coastal and mountain regions.

“While residents in other neighborhoods have plentiful options for essential services such as pharmacies and groceries, communities in burdened areas such as South Los Angeles lack basic necessities, increasing food insecurity or forcing residents to be out of their homes longer than may be safe to meet the needs of their families,” said Silvia Gonzalez, a researcher at the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge and co-author of the report.

“The road to recovery from COVID-19 requires that city officials pay attention to the specific needs of communities facing the greatest burdens,” she said. “The public health crisis has put a spotlight on the inequities facing underserved communities and has created an urgent need to improve resources that will be needed beyond the current pandemic.”

The research brief puts forth five recommendations for Los Angeles city officials and other jurisdictions with burdened populations:

  • Expand COVID-19 testing with a focus on neighborhoods that face the highest risk during safe-at-home orders.
  • Provide transportation assistance and add personal care resources like hand sanitizer at bus stops.
  • Expand paid leave options for low-wage workers or employees in the service sector to discourage people from going to work when they feel sick.
  • Increase food assistance.
  • Expand high-speed internet access and social safety net to include more relief, including Medi-Cal, child care and early childhood education programs, by expanding eligibility and elongating the benefit period.

The research brief is the third in a series of research papers examining the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on neighborhoods in Los Angeles County. Previous research papers found that Asian-American and Latino neighborhoods in Los Angeles County were most vulnerable due to the pandemic’s impact (PDF) on the retail and service sectors, and Latino neighborhoods (PDF) were less likely to receive the individual rebate under the CARES Act.

Ong & Associates is an economic and policy analysis consulting firm specializing in public interest issues; the firm provided services pro bono for the study. Its founder is Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, which is housed in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

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