Comprehensive social policies are essential for the women and children most affected by inequity but least represented in government relief and recovery efforts.
Hundreds of thousands of Latinas dropped out of the workforce over the past year. They were not just temporarily unemployed — they were forced to completely leave the labor market due to a safety net that often proved inaccessible and inequitable during the pandemic. Drastically affected by unemployment and heightened domestic responsibilities that reduced their ability to work, Latinas faced economic challenges that likely will take decades to overcome.
Now more than ever, we need comprehensive social policies designed to help the women and children most affected by inequity but least represented in government relief and recovery efforts.
With low-income families already spending over a third of their income on child care, many mothers were forced to stay home when schools and day cares closed during the pandemic. Among the hardest-hit Americans were Latinas. Almost 3% (337,000) of Latinas working in August 2020 had dropped out of the labor force by September. They experienced the highest decrease in labor force size of any demographic group in the U.S. In that single month, Latinas left jobs at three times the rate of their white counterparts. Since then, the number of Latinas in the labor force has fluctuated, but is still lower than it was in August 2020 and far below what it was pre-pandemic — 455,000 fewer Latinas were in the workforce in April 2021 than in March 2020.
It may be tempting to write this off as a consequence of a pandemic that had bad outcomes for everyone, but strong labor force participation of Latinos, one of the youngest and fastest-growing demographics, is necessary for positive economic growth. And in California, the largest state economy in the nation, where nearly 20% of the population is Latina, it is imperative to strengthen the Latina labor force with key investments, because their economic contributions are tied to the prosperity of all Californians.
At the state level, the Unseen Latinas Initiative, spearheaded by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, puts a much-needed spotlight on the unique challenges Latinas face and the solutions required to meet their needs. At the same time, the American Families Plan, a $495 billion investment to support children and families, could provide Latinas with the critical resources needed to prosper, including improved access to quality health care, food, housing, clothing and school supplies. It also would provide support to endure health crises, stay employed, return to work or continue searching for living-wage jobs that create avenues to social mobility and wealth creation.
Research has shown that child care investments can increase women’s presence in the workforce, which in turn can stimulate the economy, boosting the gross domestic product by almost $210 billion. For every 10% increase in the labor force participation of women, we can expect wages for all workers to increase by 5%. With the growing proportion of Latinos in the state representing a larger share of the workforce, the success of Latina workers stands to be a significant boon to our economy, now and in the future.
Past policy interventions, expressed commitments to racial justice and attempts to bolster aid too often have failed to reach the most vulnerable communities, and the pandemic has underscored how vulnerable Latinas are to economic shocks.
Our state and federal government share a commitment to pulling our most vulnerable people from the shadows, distributing resources that have the potential to result in long-term economic growth, and closing gender and racial wealth gaps. Our legislators must be urged to support these investments. Doing so means investing in kids, families and the country’s economic future.