Posts

The UCLA California Policy Lab (CPL) recently released a new Data Point focused on the “Lost Wages Assistance” program that started on September 7th in California. After Congress couldn’t come to an agreement about a second stimulus plan, the President put forth this program. CPL’s research team found that about 192,000 California workers will not qualify to receive the $300 benefit, because they do not already receive at least $100 in unemployment insurance benefits. The vast majority (82.5%) of people who will be ineligible to receive the $300 benefit are adults over the age of 20. Over 60% of ineligible claimants are female and over 57% have a high school degree or less.

UCLA Director of the California Policy Lab, Dr. Till von Wachter, told The Sacramento Bee, “While the program will be a temporary boost for unemployed Californians, it’s a 50% reduction from the $600 that unemployed Californians were previously receiving.”

 

 

To read the “Data Point,” click HERE.

To read CPL’s latest policy briefs on this issue, click HERE.

Earlier this month, the UCLA California Policy Lab released their sixth policy brief which focuses on close to real-time information on daily initial unemployment insurance (UI) claims. The latest policy brief, “An Analysis of Unemployment Insurance Claims in California During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” focuses on the increasing number of workers who are returning to work and seeing their unemployment claims either reduced or denied altogether as a result.

Key Research Findings:

1. More than Half of Recent Unemployment Claims are from Californians who are RE-Opening their Claims.

2. The Number and share of additional claimants varies significantly by industry.

3. Nearly one-third of California workers have filed for UI benefits since the start of the COVID-19 crisis in mid-March.

4. For the week ending July 11th, 3.28 million claimants, or about 17% of the CA labor force, were paid unemployment insurance benefits.

5. The share of paid UI claimants receiving partial benefits (due to reporting some work earnings) has risen substantially since early May.

6. As illustrated in our Data Point, without the $600 per week additional benefits from FPUC, half of all individuals received payments below the Federal Poverty Level.

7. In the week ending July 25th, only 63% of new initial claimants reported they expect to be recalled. The gap in recall expectations between Black claimants and others’ which was seen earlier in the crisis appears to have narrowed in recent weeks.

To read the press release, click HERE.

To read the full report, click HERE.

The California Policy Lab (CPL), in partnership with the Labor Market Information Division of the California Employment Development Department, has been analyzing daily initial Unemployment Insurance claims during this pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis has led to historically unprecedented increases in claims filed in California since the start of the crisis in mid-March. The findings provide an in-depth and near real-time look at how the COVID-19 crisis is impacting various industries, regions, counties, and types of workers throughout California.

A Key Finding:  The added $600 per week from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program has played a substantial role in preventing near-poverty income levels among UI claimants.

For more key findings, charts, and information about this report, click HERE.

Download the full policy brief HERE.

Check out recent coverage on this research from The Sacramento Bee HERE.

Check out previous posts about CPL research HERE.

New Analysis of Unemployment Insurance Claims in California Provides Detailed Snapshot of How COVID-19 is Impacting California Workers, Industries, and Counties

April 29th, 2020

A new analysis of initial Unemployment Insurance (UI) claims by the California Policy Lab at UCLA and the Labor Market Information Division at the California Employment Development Department provides an in-depth and near real-time look at how the COVID-19 crisis is impacting various types of workers, industries and regions throughout California. The policy brief “An Analysis of Unemployment Insurance Claims in California During the COVID-19 Pandemic” was released today.

“It’s clear that California workers who are the least able to afford it are being the most impacted by COVID-19,” explains Till von Wachter, a co-author of the analysis, UCLA economics professor and faculty director at the California Policy Lab. “While the rise in initial UI claims and their potential implications for unemployment are alarming, we also see some positive signs: besides a slight leveling off of new claims in the most recent two weeks in April, we see a much higher percent of people claiming UI benefits are reporting that they expect to return to their former employers. Given these findings, policymakers should consider how best to support employers to stay afloat and rehire their employees, and how to target relief to the groups of workers who have been most severely impacted.”

Key research findings:

  • 90% of Californians who filed initial UI claims in the first two weeks of April reported that they expected to be recalled to their prior jobs, a substantial increase from the 40% of claimants who reported this before the crisis.
  • Younger, lower-wage, and lower-educated workers and women have been disproportionately impacted by unemployment in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Since the start of the Covid-19 crisis in the labor market (in mid-March), among those in the labor force, 1 in 3 high school graduates, 1 in 4 aged 20-23, and 1 in 6 women filed initial UI claims.
  • Since mid-March 14.4% of the California labor force has filed initial UI claims. If none of these initial UI claimants have returned to work, this implies a rise in the unemployment rate to close to 20% from the 5.3% prevailing in mid-March.
  • Almost 1 in 3 workers in Food and Accommodations and 1 in 5 workers in Retail Sales filed new initial claims. Several other large sectors experienced substantial increases in initial UI claims since mid-March, including Health Care and Social Services; Manufacturing; Construction; Other Services; and Administrative Support, Waste Management, and Remediation.
  • All counties in California have experienced substantial growth in initial UI claims, but the rise has been more pronounced in several of the usually economically strong areas of the state, including the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Southern California.

This analysis will be updated on a weekly basis with new data on initial Unemployment Insurance claims to provide a timely and detailed analysis of the impacts of COVID-19 on California’s labor market.

Methodology
The analysis is based on comparing initial unemployment insurance claims in February 2020 (before the COVID-19 crisis impacted the labor markets); the start of the employment crisis in mid-March (when initial UI claims increased dramatically); and more recently the first 11 days of April.

The analysis complements traditional survey-based indicators on the labor market, which have detailed information but large time lags and which are released not as frequently, and to weekly publications of the number of total UI claims, which have minimal time lags but which lack the detail available in this analysis.

Download the full report HERE.

Contact:

Sean Coffey: sean@capolicylab.org
(919) 428-1143

The California Policy Lab creates data-driven insights for the public good. Our mission is to partner with California’s state and local governments to generate scientific evidence that solves California’s most urgent problems, including homelessness, poverty, crime, and education inequality. We facilitate close working partnerships between policymakers and researchers at the University of California to help evaluate and improve public programs through empirical research and technical assistance.

The Labor Market Information Division (LMID) is the official source for California Labor Market Information. The LMID promotes California’s economic health by providing information to help people understand California’s economy and make informed labor market choices. We collect, analyze, and publish statistical data and reports on California’s labor force, industries, occupations, employment projections, wages and other important labor market and economic data.

The UCLA Luskin Center for History and Policy (LCHP) has released their latest research report, titled Pandemics Past and Present: One Hundred Years of California History. Particularly timely in light of Los Angeles Times coverage on this topic, this report features original research about the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918, the AIDS/HIV crisis of the 1980s, and subsequent Influenza outbreaks. To read the report, click HERE, and for key takeaways, click HERE.

True to LCHP’s mission, this report uses an examination of the past to help guide us in our present moment of crisis. As governments and communities across the world are grappling with the COVID-19 crisis, researchers Dr. Kirsten Moore-Sheeley, Jessica Richards, and Talla Khelghati uncover instructive lessons about government responses, public reactions, and economic consequences of past pandemics.

LCHP has also released an accompanying episode on their new podcast, “Then & Now,” featuring a conversation with the report’s authors. Listen to the podcast HERE.

Through their report and accompanying podcast episode, LCHP seeks to provide useful context and guidance during this crisis.

 

Subscribe to LA Social Science and be the first to learn more insight and knowledge from UCLA social science experts in upcoming video/audio sessions and posts about current issues.

 

February 27, 2020 — A new report released today by the California Policy Lab at UCLA sheds light on the employment histories of people before, during, and after receiving homelessness services in Los Angeles. By studying enrollment and wages data for more than 130,000 homeless service clients, the authors found that a majority of people (74%) who experienced homelessness in Los Angeles had some work history in California, and that more than one-third (37%) were working in the two years prior to becoming homeless. Only about one in five (19%) were working in the calendar quarter they became homeless, and their annual wages were very low. Their average annual earnings were only $9,970, which is 16% of the Area Median Income for Los Angeles.

“There’s often an assumption that people experiencing homelessness are not working,” explained Till von Wachter, a UCLA economic professor, co-author of the report, and faculty director of the California Policy Lab at UCLA. “While it’s true that some individuals in our study had not worked in a long time, a substantial number – close to half – were working within four years before entering homelessness. These recent workers had a higher likelihood of returning to work after receiving services and their average wages were also higher. The results from our study on who is most likely to work after enrolling for homeless services can be used to tailor workforce programs to encourage employment and raise earnings of homeless service clients.”

The researchers had three additional main findings:

  • There are predictable differences in employment rates after service enrollment. Those with recent employment and younger individuals had substantially higher levels of employment after receiving services. To a lesser degree, adults in families, and individuals without mental and physical health issues had also higher employment rates as compared to the entire sample. These differences can be used to better target reemployment services to those most likely to find gainful employment.
  • For some groups, employment rates improved at the same time that they enrolled to receive homeless services, although this is not necessarily a causal relationship. Individuals who worked in the four years prior to experiencing homelessness had substantial reductions in their employment rates prior to becoming homeless (dropping from 46% two years before enrolling to 33% in the quarter before enrolling). However, for some recent workers, their employment rates increased after enrolling, for example, the employment rate for adults in families increased from 39% to 44%. Individuals in transitional housing and people who came from stable housing also saw increases in employment rates after enrolling in services.
  • Most individuals work in just a few industries: 65% of people who were employed worked in one of four industries prior to enrolling to receive services, and those that found employment after enrollment were typically concentrated in those industries. This has implications for job training and placement programs that are intended to support people either to prevent homelessness or to help people as they transition out of homelessness.

Additional research findings

  • 86% of adults in families were employed at some point prior to service enrollment as compared to 75% for single adults, and 61% for transition aged youth aged 18-24.
  • 47% of people were working in the four years prior to becoming homeless, and 37% were employed within two years of their homeless spell. On average, people had worked in two of the four quarters before service enrollment.
  • There are 12 categories of homelessness support services. People enrolled in homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing projects had the highest rates of employment in the two years before enrollment, at 67% and 56%, respectively.
  • 72% of people who reported mental health issues at enrollment had worked previously, 76% reporting substance abuse concerns had worked previously, and 72% reporting physical disabilities had worked previously.
  • In the year before enrolling for services, 24% of individuals who reported substance abuse concerns had worked in the year prior to enrolling along with 20% who reported mental health issues and 17% who reported physical disabilities. This compares to an overall sample average of 29% of individuals who were employed in the year prior to enrollment.
  • Individuals coming from stable housing prior to enrolling in services had higher quarterly employment rates and experienced more of an employment recovery after enrolling for services as compared to people who had been homeless for three months or more at the time of service enrollment.
  • Recent workers (defined as having worked three or four years before service enrollment) had higher quarterly earnings in the quarter of service enrollment (22% more than the full sample) and had higher annual earnings in the second year after service enrollment ($13,311 for the full sample versus $15,880 for recent workers).

Methodology

The research team linked enrollment data from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) from the time period of 2010 to 2018 for individuals aged 18 to 70 at the time of enrollment to state employment records from the California Employment Development Department for the time period from 1995 to 2018. The analysis was then performed on de-identified data. The full sample size was 136,726 individuals. For more details, read the report, or the accompanying technical appendix.  Download the report, HERE.

Additional Background and future research

While this report provides a baseline understanding of employment rates among people receiving homeless services in Los Angeles, the authors caution that more research is needed to develop specific policy recommendations. Future research should look at whether job loss is the direct cause of homelessness and for whom, and how workforce and training programs could either prevent homelessness or speed up exits from homelessness. This report did not include data on income supports from programs like Supplemental Security Income, General Relief, CalWORKs, or CalFRESH that would help to better understand the income situation of homeless service clients.

###

The California Policy Lab

The California Policy Lab creates data-driven insights for the public good. Our mission is to partner with California’s state and local governments to generate scientific evidence that solves California’s most urgent problems, including homelessness, poverty, crime, and education inequality. We facilitate close working partnerships between policymakers and researchers at the University of California to help evaluate and improve public programs through empirical research and technical assistance.

Contact:
Sean Coffey: sean@capolicylab.org

(919) 428-1143

The California Latino Legislative Caucus and UCLA LPPI staff gather for a photo that commemorates the second year of their partnership which aims to increase access to pertinent data science on Latinos.

By Celina Avalos and Sonja Diaz

On May 20, 2019, the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI) hosted its second annual California Latino Legislative Policy Briefing in Sacramento. The policy briefing, co-hosted by the California Latino Legislative Caucus and UCLA Government & Community Relations, featured research presentations by three LPPI faculty experts: Dean Gary Segura, Dr. Melissa Chinchilla and Dr. Arturo Vargas Bustamante.

The policy briefing was attended by 50 guests who are policy advocates, legislative staff, and community leaders. The meeting convened at La Cosecha in Sacramento where the group learned more about LPPI’s latest research findings and discussed policy interventions that could improve the lives of California residents.

LPPI expert Dr. Melissa Chinchilla and LPPI Executive Director Sonja Diaz introduce LPPI’s recent report on Latino homelessness to a packed house in La Cosecha.

Attendees heard from the LPPI faculty experts on a wide-range of domestic policy issues including voting, housing, and health. The issues discussed in the briefing are critical policy challenges that the California legislature is addressing through new lawmaking. Each issue has unique impacts on California’s plurality. Fortunately, LPPI’s legislative briefing provided a space for policy leaders to understand more clearly which policy solutions are better suited to address the disparities faced by Latinos.

Kicking off the policy briefing was Dean Segura, who presented his research on public opinion trends leading to the 2020 presidential election. In 2018, LPPI’s research documented a 77% increase in Latino votes cast. This increase was configured by looking at and comparing the midterm elections from 2014 to 2018. Dean Segura’s presentation expanded on trends identifying leading public opinion sentiments that influenced voters of color (Asian Americans, Blacks, and Latinos) on issues involving immigration, #MeToo, access to affordable health care, and support for gun laws. Largely, the 2018 election illustrated the upward potential of Latino vote growth in and beyond California. The numbers showed voters of color embraced Democratic positions on guns, health care, and immigration at higher rates than their white peers.

Next, Dr. Chinchilla followed with her research on homelessness in Los Angeles County. In her policy presentation on Latino homelessness, Dr. Chinchilla cemented the lack of accurate data on Latinos facing housing insecurity and reiterated the fact that this demographic group remains undercounted.

LPPI Policy Fellow Celina Avalos met UFW leader and advocate Dolores Huerta during visits to the State Capital discussing LPPI’s work on housing and health.

Highlighting findings from her LPPI report, Stemming the Rise of Latino Homelessness, Dr. Chinchilla shared that homelessness is not a one size fits all narrative. She stated, “Many factors contribute to the undercount of Latinos facing housing insecurity, like immigration status, economic vulnerability, and cultural and language barriers.”

Dr. Vargas Bustamante concluded the policy briefing with his work on the California Latino physician crisis, which addresses a key issue facing the state—the shortage of healthcare workers. Dr. Vargas Bustamante’s policy presentation integrated findings from his report, Latino Physician Shortage in California: The Provider Perspective. He shared, “As California’s plurality, Latinos will represent 44.5% of California’s population by 2050. However, currently only 4.7% of physicians in California are Latino.”

According to Dr. Vargas Bustamante, the contributing factors to the Latino physician shortage include: lack of financial support and opportunity, academic disadvantages, navigation, underrepresentation, and citizenship.

LPPI’s briefing provided a novel opportunity for leading policy stakeholders to engage in timely policy issues centered on the needs of the state’s plurality. This briefing builds upon LPPI’s legislative portfolio of engaging elected and appointed officials on critical policy issues with data and facts, breeding new research-practice partnerships and accelerating the capacity for evidence-based policy.

  • UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative study finds that Latino students pursuing a medical career in California must overcome significant barriers to successfully become physicians. The main barriers identified are: financial and opportunity cost, academic disadvantages, navigation, underrepresentation and citizenship.
  • Barriers to the medical profession further exasperate the Latino physician shortage in California. Policymakers, advocates and stakeholders must address the barriers encountered by Latinos in the medical profession to meet the health care needs of all residents.

The UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI), in collaboration with the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, recently released its fourth installation of policy reports addressing California’s Latino Physician Shortage. Authored by LPPI Faculty Research Expert Dr. Arturo Vargas-Bustamante and Lucía Félix Beltrán, Latino Physician Shortage in California: The Provider Prospective discusses the main barriers and sources of support identified by a sample of Latino pre-med students, medical school applicants, Latino medical students, and recently graduated Latino physicians.

This report finds that, “the medical profession is de facto not open to everyone.” Specifically, unequal backgrounds and opportunities, diverse career trajectories, and various barriers in the medical profession, such as underrepresentation of Latinos in the medical field or academic disadvantages, are creating major difficulties for Latino students seeking careers as physicians.

“This analysis by Bustamante and Beltran provides a critically needed and comprehensive examination of the pipeline from high school, through college, and into medical school faced by Latinx students.  Importantly, it examines the multiple causes of leaks from that pipeline using an innovative methodology incorporating the experiences of those students.  It is these leaks that impair California’s ability to generate the diverse physician workforce needed to care for the State’s increasingly diverse population.” says Dr. David Carlisle, President of Charles Drew University, a private, nonprofit University committed to cultivating diverse health professional leaders who are dedicated to social justice and health equity for underserved populations.

In 2015, Latinos became California’s plurality population with approximately 15.2 million Latinos residing in the state. By 2050, Latinos are estimated to represent 44.5% of the state’s population.[1] While the Latino population continues to grow, the supply of Latino physicians has not caught up.[2] The scarcity of Latino physicians in California has led to a deficit of 54,655 Latino physicians that are required to achieve parity with Non-Hispanic Whites.[3]

Pipeline programs and mentorship platforms partly address the barriers Latino students face to become physicians with support such as tutoring, mentorship, and exposure to the medical profession. However, these programs alone are unable to substantially change the low representation of Latinos in the medical profession.

Therefore, California must reduce the barriers faced by Latino physician hopefuls throughout the state. The report includes policy recommendations that directly address the barriers that unnecessarily complicate the navigation of medical education for Latinos. Policy recommendations outlined in the report include, increasing financial resources available to students who do not qualify for existing programs, such as those that require citizenship, or addressing academic disadvantages by coordinating and expanding pipeline programs that support students from middle school until medical school.

The need to address this deficit is increasingly pressing as the share of the Latino population increases in California, and as the demand for health care increases with population aging. Every year that California does not work to increase access of the medical education for Latino students, already inadequate access to high quality care worsens, ultimately impacting the overall healthcare outcomes of the state.

 

This research was made possible by a generous grant from AltaMed Health Services Corporation.

Read the full report at: latino.ucla.edu/health

About the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative:

The Latino Policy & Politics Initiative (LPPI) is a comprehensive think tank that addresses the most critical domestic policy challenges facing communities of color in states and localities across the U.S. LPPI fosters innovative research, leverages policy-relevant expertise, drives civic engagement, and nurtures a leadership pipeline to propel viable policy reforms that expand opportunity for all Americans. Learn more at: latino.ucla.edu

___________________________________________________________________

[1] DOF. Projections. 2018; http://www.dof.ca.gov/Forecasting/Demographics/Projections/.

[2] Sanchez G., Nevarez T., Schink W., Hayes-Bautista D. E. Latino Physicians in the United States, 1980-2010: A Thirty-Year Overview From the Censuses. 2015(1938-808X (Electronic)).

[3] Hsu P, Balderas-Medina Anaya Y, Hayes-Bautista D. E. 5 Centuries to Reach Parity: An Analysis of How Long it Will Take to Address California’s Latino Physician Shortage. Los Angeles, CA: Latino Policy & Politic Initiative; October 2018 2018.

By Preeti Sharma, Saba Waheed, and Vina Nguyen

With the holiday season upon us, many people will visit salons to be pampered and have their nails done. Once a place of luxury for elite women only, US nail salons were democratized in the 1980s when new immigrants and refugees opened salons to a wider clientele. However, lower prices came at a cost to nail salon workers.

In November 2018, the UCLA Labor Center in partnership with the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative released Nail Files, a report on the national nail salon sector. While a few studies on the industry have focused on customer health and environmental issues, this report takes a comprehensive look into the multibillion-dollar nail salon industry through a labor lens. We analyzed existing literature, policy reports, and government data to paint a picture of current labor conditions for salon workers.

The majority of nail salons are immigrant-owned mom-and-pop establishments. More than two-thirds of nail salons have five employees or fewer. While there are some large national and regional chains, since immigrant and refugee women transformed the industry in the 1980s, mom-and-pop salons have dominated the sector. The labor force is predominantly Asian—Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Nepali, and Tibetan—but also includes Latinx workers. California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Georgia are the states with the largest population of nail salon workers. 

Eight out of ten nail salon employees are low-wage workers, more than double the national rate for low-wage work of 33%. Strikingly, full-time salon workers earn less than half of what workers make in other sectors.

Nail salon workers experience challenging work conditions, including misclassification. These challenges include low wages, low flat-rate pay that amounts to less than the hourly minimum wage, other minimum-wage and overtime violations, and harassment and surveillance. In addition, 30% of nail salon workers are self-employed, a rate triple the national average, raising the concern that some manicurists are purposely misclassified as independent contractors and are therefore deprived of workplace benefits like health insurance and workers compensation, labor protections, and the right to organize.

What can be done?

The nail salon industry is projected to grow, and it will to continue to innovate to bring in a new clientele. Current trends include extending services to a male clientele using advertising and décor aimed at attracting men, expanding the sector with luxury and chain salons, and developing on-demand and app-based services.

As the sector expands, we recommend improved enforcement of workplace protections, best-practice training that encourages high-road businesses, customer education about fair pricing, and stronger government policies to protect the health and safety of nail salon workers.

Read the full Nail Files report here. Report authors: Preeti Sharma, Saba Waheed, Vina Nguyen, Lina Stepick, Reyna Orellana, Liana Katz, Sabrina Kim, and Katrina Lapira.

 

Preeti Sharma is a UCLA PhD candidate in gender studies and a graduate student researcher at the UCLA Labor Center. Her research interests include feminist theories of work, racialized and gendered labor, service economies, worker center organizing, women-of-color feminisms/queer-of-color critique, and Asian American studies. Her project “The Thread between Them” explores South Asian threading salons in the Los Angeles beauty-service industry and the neoliberal immigrant-service sector.

Saba Waheed is research director at the UCLA Labor Center. She has fifteen years of research experience developing projects with strong community participation. With her team at the Labor Center, she coordinated the first-ever study of domestic-work employers, launched a study of young people in the service economy, and conducted research on the taxi, garment, nail salon, construction, and restaurant industries.

A first-generation student, Vina Nguyen graduated from UCLA in 2018 with a BA in human biology and society. As a graduate student researcher at the UCLA Labor Center, she investigated current trends and labor issues in the US nail salon industry and the impact of erratic scheduling practices on the lives of retail workers in Los Angeles. She continues her research with the Multicenter Aids Cohort Study, a thirty-year study of HIV infection in gay and bisexual men.

By Lara Drasin

Bryonn Bain is a UCLA professor jointly appointed in the African American Studies and World Arts and Cultures/Dance departments, as well as a prison activist, spoken word poet, hip-hop artist, actor and author. He is the founder and director of UCLA’s Prison Education Program, which was launched in 2016 to create innovative courses that enable UCLA faculty and students to learn from, and alongside, participants incarcerated at the California Institute for Women (CIW) and Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall (BJN). 

Rosie Rios is the administrative director of UCLA’s Prison Education Program. 

Part 1 of the series will first focus on the interview with Professor Bain

LD:     What do you [Professor Bain] tell people you do when you first meet them?

BB:     It depends on the context. On this campus, I think students identify me first and foremost as a professor, and as the director of the Prison Education Program. But before I was any of those things, I was an artist; I was an activist; I was an educator. I really am excited about the intersection of those identities, where they come together and create sparks and possibilities for transformation.

I’m inspired by people who consider themselves to be change makers. I’m inspired by people like Robin Kelley, who recruited me to come [to UCLA]. Cheryl Harris. I’m inspired by folks who see that when you bring together ways of understanding the world that aren’t often put together, all these amazing possibilities exist.

I’m also the son of immigrants, from a little island in the Caribbean called Trinidad and Tobago. My father was a storyteller — he was a calypsonian — and so I have some of that in me. I’m a storyteller. It’s part of my artistry as a poet; as an actor; as a theater maker. That’s part of my identity.

My mother is a healer. She’s been a nurse for 40 years. I think from her as a healer, and having all these aunts who are healers, I was definitely inspired to be an activist and to use whatever skills and talents and time I have on this planet — between womb and tomb — to try to impact the lives of those around me. So I think that’s where my desire to try to make change happen through activism comes from. I think there’s an intersection between arts activism and education that is at the heart of who I am.

LD:     Tell me about your work within the different contexts, [Professor Bain].

BB:     We do a lot of work in correctional facilities. We have offered courses at two correctional facilities in California, and we’ve taught five courses between the women’s prison and the juvenile hall. At the end of this year, we will have taught seven more. In those spaces, we’re here to represent students and faculty, to create opportunities for incarcerated students and students at the university to engage in higher learning and education together. So, they see me as a professor.

When I’m in a performance space I’m an actor, I’m looking at scripts, and I’m just one of the folks in the room who’s trying to tell the story together. We’re storytellers.

We all have these different layers, right? It’s not just me, or just [Rosie Rios, Administrative Director of the Prison Education Program], or just you.

Kimberlé Crenshaw and W.E.B. Du Bois before her were onto something when they talked about a double or triple or multiple consciousnesses. It’s dealing with, for example, the NYPD who didn’t believe me when I told [the officer] that I was a law student; didn’t believe me when I told them that the Sony VAIO laptop I had in my bag was mine — not that I stole it — or the public defender who told me that rather than believing my resume, she was more inclined to believe that I had a lengthy rap sheet. I think if we look at each other as full human beings, we’re multidimensional. People are not like those old school TV sets, where you could change from one channel to the next. Our identities all flow into each other, right? And so we have to get comfortable understanding that people have these multiple parts to themselves.

Members of the UCLA Prison Education Program team. Front row: Dianna Williams, Daniel Ocampo, Lyric “Day-Day” Green-Brown, Rosie Rios, Joanna Navarro. Back row: Gabrielle Sheerer, Dominique Rocker, Bryonn Bain, Derrick Kemp.

 

“…I think we’ve become numb and desensitized to a lot of the suffering that’s around us, and I think art is one way to say ‘No, wake up.'”

— Professor Bain

LD:     How are the arts initiatives you bring to prisons received — not only by the students — but by everyone that you’ve had to go through in order to make this happen? Do you present it as a healing modality? How do you justify it to them when so many institutions still don’t take the arts seriously?

BB:     This is one of the few countries where the arts are not taken as seriously as the rest of the world takes it. And at the same time, we wouldn’t think about Los Angeles or California as being the same without Hollywood, right? So there is a certain amount of respect for the power of storytelling at some level. I think it’s also important for us to understand that there are other ways for the arts to live and to feed us. Prisons are a public health crisis for many reasons, one of them being that we have more people in prisons with mental health issues than we have in mental health institutions. So prisons are being used as a way to deal with mental health and public health issues that they are not effective at dealing with. Drug addiction is a disease — it’s a public health issue according to the Center for Disease Control — and we’re treating it like it’s a criminal justice issue by locking people up and denying access to what they need. And a lot of people still have access to many banned substances that are available in prisons. So I think we have to really expand our thinking about that. But I think the arts are a way to open people up to see things in different ways. There are many metaphors for art: art as medicine, art as healing, art as a weapon, a tool for resistance to fight oppression. There is no movement for justice that did not have the arts as a part of it.

Anne Bogart talked about art as dealing with the world of aesthetics. And so when you think about what it means to be aesthetic, you think about what “anesthetic” or “anesthesia” is, right? Malcolm X talked about how when you go to the doctor what they do is put Novocaine in your mouth right so you could suffer peacefully, that you can actually bleed all over your mouth and they’ll tell you you’re just fine. So an anesthetic, or “anesthesia,” is actually about numbing your senses: making it so that you don’t see smell, taste, or touch with the same level of intensity. It puts your senses to sleep. So aesthetics should be the opposite of that. An aesthetic should wake up the senses. I think about art as being an alarm clock, waking up the senses to things that we may have become numb to. I’m from a city where 20 million people can walk down the street — and there’s lots of love in the boroughs — but there are certain parts of Manhattan that are not like the block I’m from in Brooklyn. Somebody can be dead on the street and 50 people could walk over the body before anybody even asks if you’re okay. So I think we’ve become numb and desensitized to a lot of the suffering that’s around us, and I think art is one way to say “No, wake up. Human beings who share your experiences, and your oxygen, and your water supply, and in many ways are part of the same organism, are going through and experiencing things that we need to be awakened to.” I think art has the power to do that, to wake us up to realize that we actually have work to do. The social sciences are a direct connection to the arts, because it’s one place you can go to actually dig into the reality of the world: to actually figure out what change has to happen based on the research that many of my colleagues here are doing.

LD:     That’s a good segue into my question about the arts and science. They’ve been separated for so long, even though we know that they’re not actually separate. I know that recently you received a joint appointment to the World Arts and Cultures/Dance department. Do you know if there are a lot of professors on campus that have appointments in both a social or life science department and an arts department?

BB:     I heard of one other before me who was in Chicana/o Studies and also in World Arts and Cultures/Dance. But beyond that, I don’t know of any others. I know that Robin Kelley and Scot Brown are both African American Studies and History, and they also have an affiliation with the Global Jazz Studies program. Robin Kelley wrote the brilliant biography of jazz musician and legend Thelonius Monk, and Scot Brown does a lot of work around funk. So they have this connection between history, the arts and music that I think is really powerful.

Tricia Rose wrote one of the first scholarly books around hip-hop in 1994, Black Noise, and I had a chance to study with her at NYU as a grad student. I think my own experience was a little different because I identified as an artist. So while I wanted to study art to understand it, I also am a practitioner — I am a culture maker, a culture worker. It’s equally important to me to study the history, the culture, and the politics of the artistic media that I engage, and to develop my own craft.

I think there’s room for all kinds of art at all levels. But if we only have art that is about justice that is of a very low quality, we’re not helping the movement — we’re actually hurting the movement. So I try to challenge my students to explore terrain that they may have not experienced before, to think critically about the artistic practice and to think about the relationship between their art, the work they’re making and the world they want to build. I do that because I had amazing teachers and mentors who did the same thing with me. If you had to pay royalty checks for everything you take from your professor’s syllabus I would owe Lani Guinier a check every week. She is a brilliant, brilliant teacher who encouraged me to use collaboration in classrooms, to use creativity in the classroom, and to think critically in the classroom. So, those are things that are at the heart of how I connect to the arts and the social sciences.

 

“It’s a different time now and there is a whole lot that has not changed and needs to change. But I think our consciousness is expanding. I think the voices of people who were formerly incarcerated and are currently incarcerated are moving toward the center of the movement where they should be.” — Professor Bain

LD:     It seems like more people are accepting the fact that the stories we tell, including the media and entertainment we consume and create, are impactful in how they represent our lives and shaping who we are. Obviously, whenever there are these big shifts, we see it at different levels, and we sometimes see it commoditized or hijacked. What’s been your experience in observing this shift?

BB:     We’re in a time where there’s more of a movement to do many of the things that some folks realized need[ed] to happen 20 years ago, but there was no movement in place. Without a mass social movement, it’s very difficult to make change that is lasting, systemic and happens at an institutional level. So that is the biggest difference. I finished law school and I had a really unbelievable media platform: I had access to people who wanted to tell my story to 20 million people. And so because of The Village Voice and 60 Minutes, it was the strangest thing to really call out the NYPD and have, like, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley call me and offer me investment banking jobs. It was such an odd thing. I walked away from a lot of really lucrative opportunities — it just didn’t make any sense with my soul, you know? But I also realized that I could use some of that attention and energy to shine a light in other spaces that needed it more. So the show that I’ve created [“Lyrics from Lockdown”] just came out of touring in prisons around the country, and it emerged from me having a relationship with somebody who was put on death row at 17 — a man named Nanon Williams. “Lyrics From Lockdown,” the show, came from “Lyrics On Lockdown,” the tour, which hit 25 states around the country and ended up as a course in several states. The one I saw was first at Columbia, then NYU, The New School and Rikers Island. So seeing this sort of growth in attention to these issues over the last decade or two decades has challenged me to think about how to find ways to make sure that we’re shining the light in the right place.

I was able to actually bring some attention to Nanon’s case a year after we had the first public performances of the show. A federal judge looked at his case again and decided he should be released. Now the state of Texas appealed. He’s still locked up over 25 years for crime he didn’t commit, but we are closer than ever to getting some movement on his case. Folks like Bryan Stevenson went before the Supreme Court and argued in a case called Sullivan v. Florida that young folks we have locked up all over the country doing life sentences without parole, their brains weren’t even fully developed when they were charged for these crimes and marked for the rest of their lives. They should have the opportunity to actually have redemption. It’s not even second chances: in many cases, it’s first chances. Folks live in communities where the choices are not the choices folks have in Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Bel Air and even Westwood, so that’s a big part of seeing this movement develop.

I feel like the folks that I’ve been blessed to work with have been a small part of building this larger movement because there weren’t editorials in The New York Times or the L.A. Times every week about mass incarceration. People weren’t even calling it “mass incarceration” or “hyper incarceration” or “racialized mass incarceration.” There was a network of folks — Critical Resistance through Angela Davis, a group called the Prison Moratorium Project, a group called the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights — who were talking about the prison industrial complex, connecting the dots and realizing that our communities are being devastated by the drug war, by aggressive paramilitary policing, and by the human caging that is still impacting us. But there’s at least a conversation and a movement. Black Lives Matter is in part to thank for the more recent wave of that. So I think that’s the biggest difference: we’re having this conversation in a larger context.

It’s a different time now and there is a whole lot that has not changed and needs to change. But I think our consciousness is expanding. I think the voices of people who were formerly incarcerated and are currently incarcerated are moving toward the center of the movement where they should be. Whereas 20 years ago, most of the policy that was being generated around prisons and policing was being driven by folks who had no experience in our communities, or any of these correctional facilities where our communities have been put in unprecedented numbers.

A larger movement requires a holistic approach to the problem. A larger movement is not about just folks changing policy, or changing legislation even. One of the things I learned in law school is that if you don’t change the hearts and minds of people, then you’ve got to send the National Guard to make sure that little black girls can go to school in the South.

LD:     I noticed that on the website for the Center for Justice, you say you’re “reshaping narratives through education, policy, research, advocacy, arts and culture.” Do you think that these are the channels through which we produce change?

BB:     I think those are our essential areas. I think it’s hard to make systemic change without those areas being considered. I also think, at this location, at this time and place, those are areas that you cannot leave out of the equation because we’re in a city that has an impact on global culture: you have to think about the arts and culture. Because we’re in a Tier One research institution, you have to think about research and education policy. You have to think about those things because of where we are in the world, this time and place. So we’ve been able to think about and begin forging collaborations across the campus that actually do that. Last year we offered a course called Legislative Theatre For Racial Justice, about using the arts to shape policy. We have collaborations with the folks in World Arts and Cultures/Dance, the team at the Art & Global Health Center, the Law School, and African American Studies.

We brought a Brazilian visiting scholar, artist, and theatre-maker, Alessandro Conceição, from Brazil to work with us at the juvenile hall and to develop theater scenes – Theater of the Oppressed. I was introduced to this in law school, because I had a brilliant legal professor [Lani Guinier] who knew that the law is full of theatrics. She knew that the drama’s in every courtroom. But she also knew, practically speaking, that if you were to actually challenge young law students to think outside the box to say, “Okay, well, how are they creating legislation in Brazil?” and to get folks to act out the social problems they’re experiencing, and to actually propose solutions — not just to talk about or write about the solutions, but to act them out and have a dialogue around them — that might be something we could really use. And when I saw that, a light bulb went on, and I said, “this is what I’m supposed to be using.”

So to go to Brazil with our colleagues in World Arts and Cultures/Dance in December and actually begin a relationship between L.A. and Rio, which we hope to build over time and eventually send students and faculty back and forth — it was powerful. We had students at the juvenile hall tell their stories; do poetry; do theater. At the end of the course, in collaboration with UCLA students, they presented those scenes to legal scholars, judges, law clerks, a legislative brain trust, the UN Special Rapporteur against racism, in order to share those ideas, have a conversation, and then voted on legislative proposals that, through a training we just completed here at the [UCLA] Bunche Center, we’re now going to actually take to Sacramento and City Hall and work to have their voices be heard when usually their voices are never part of the process. So there’s a larger movement that made that possible. It’s also an opportunity to think outside the box, and to think about how we use the arts, theater, poetry, policy, research, and education and link those so they’re not siloed off in ways that there are seen to be irrelevant to each other.

 

Read Part 2 HERE

This interview has been edited for clarity.